SAN FRANCISCO -- I don't even know where to begin with this one. The Eagles were dead in the water, it seemed. Didn't it? Down by nine points, flailing away on defense, making too many mistakes on offense ... what would make this team wake up? Then, well, it happened. Just like that. The Eagles scored 23 straight points and beat San Francisco 40-26 and, wow, what a game to go into the bye week to talk about.
"We didn't quit, not once, and if you fight and fight you have a chance," said running back Correll Buckhalter, who rushed for 93 yards on 18 carries with a touchdown and added 85 yards on seven receptions. "Coach Reid always talks about highs and lows in a game. It's important that when we're facing those lows that we all stick together. At any point in the game, we can change that around."
The Eagles did just that, reeling off an amazing 23 points, stuffing the 49ers offense and taking that cue to put points on the board. After a tough three-quarter performance during which the defense did not record one three-and-out series, the Eagles had four in the fourth quarter and allowed the 49ers just one first down.
Amazing. For three quarters Eagles fans in the stands at Candlestick Park -- and there were almost as much Midnight Green in San Francisco as there were 49ers fans -- were restless, unhappy, and worried that the season was about to slip away.
And then it all turned around. Just like that.
"We knew it was the fourth quarter and we had 15 minutes to play ball. Fifteen hard minutes," said defensive end Juqua Parker, who had five tackles -- two for losses -- a sack, an interception that he returned 55 yards for a touchdown and a sideline chat with his teammates that helped spur the turnaround. "We had to go after it. We needed to win this game. It was huge. It was very important.
"It felt great. We huddled up at the start of that fourth quarter and pumped each other up, got each other rowdy."
The Eagles jumped out to a 17-6 lead and seemed to have the game under control until late in the second quarter when, once again, they let a lead slip away. First, the 49ers drove 10 plays and 37 yards and scored on a Joe Nedney 53-yard field goal. Then the Eagles went into attack mode with 29 seconds remaining in the half, driving from their 20 to the San Francisco 36-yard line and then they lined up for a David Akers 54-yard field goal try.
But the 49ers broke through on the right side of the Eagles' protection wall and spiked Akers' kick. The ball bounced right into the hands of 49ers defensive back Donald Strickland, who returned it 41 yards for a touchdown and, suddenly, the Eagles were ahead only 17-16 at halftime.
San Francisco definitely had the momentum. The 49ers continued with the mighty mo with a touchdown drive of 78 yards to open the second half, and on their second possession they moved the ball 77 more yards for another Nedney field goal and a nine-point lead.
After Takeo Spikes -- who couldn't catch a cold as an Eagle last year -- intercepted a Donovan McNabb pass intended for tight end L.J. Smith -- it looked mighty bleak for your favorite team.
But the defense rose up and forced their first three-and-out series since the Chicago game and, yeah baby, the rout was on.
"Great win for us," said quarterback Donovan McNabb, who completed 23 of 36 passes for 280 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. "Nobody hung their heads. We all stayed together and stayed focused and got it done. It was a very big win, a big game."
There were some things to note in this game from my perspective:
- McNabb and wide receiver Hank Baskett (4 catches, 38 yards) executed a fade pass for a touchdown. The fade pass is something the Eagles don't use very often. "Donovan made a great throw and I just went up and got it," said Baskett, who leaped and made a sensational catch in the right corner of the end zone. "We had a good look and made it work."
- Smith and McNabb appeared to have some confusion on the Spikes interception -- Smith went over the top on crossing route and McNabb threw for an underneath route -- but Smith came back to make a huge touchdown catch. McNabb threaded a pass low in the end zone and Smith made the catch. "Great spot by by Donovan. He threw it in the only place I could get it," said Smith.
- Dan Klecko played the entire game at fullback. Tony Hunt played only on special teams.
- DeSean Jackson gained a total of 127 yards -- 98 receiving, one rushing and 28 in the return game -- on nine touches in his return to where he played collegiately. "I had a lot of people here and there were a lot of Eagles fans and it was great," said Jackson. "I just wanted to win. That's all I cared about."
- Once again, it was a very poor start by the Eagles on the road. They had a three-and-out series offensively and then allowed a punt return of 45 yards by Allen Rossum to set up a quick field goal. The Eagles can't keep starting like this on the road.
- Why can't the Eagles shut out tight ends? It is something to examine over the bye week as the Eagles self scout themselves. Vernon Davis had just five catches coming in, and then he had 6 catches for 75 yards on Sunday.
- Great interception by Quintin Mikell to set up three points. Big, big play in the fourth quarter.
- The screen game was fantastic and guard Max Jean-Gilles deserves a big hand. He was great getting out and leading Buckhalter.
- San Francisco converted just 2 of 12 third downs.
- McNabb averaged an impressive 7.8 yards per pass attempt, not bad given the Eagles played without Brian Westbrook, Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown.
- Chris Clemons saw his most action of the season, playing left end with Victor Abiamiri at tackle in the team's nickel and dime formations.
- The Eagles committed just two penalties while San Francisco lost 58 yards on 10 penalties.
- The Eagles hadn't had a field goal blocked for a touchdown returned by the opposition since the 1981 season. Sunday was not a good day for the special teams, although Akers made four field goals and kicked off well. Jackson averaged 14 yards on two punt returns and Quintin Demps brought back one kickoff for 63 yards to set up a score, but Rossum had the big punt return and the blocked field goal could have been devastating.
- San Francisco had six offensive possessions in the fourth quarter and not once had a drive longer than three plays.
- Key stat: The Eagles had an average field position of the 46-yard line, while San Francisco began its drives at the 27-yard line.
- Great, great game by cornerback Sheldon Brown. He had terrific coverage on a fourth-quarter slant route and the pass was incomplete, and then he raced across a third of the field and broke up a pass down the field for Isaac Bruce. The official statistics don't give Brown credit for any passes defensed, which tells you all you need to know about the world of statistics.