Alex Smith led San Francisco to a comeback victory over the Eagles. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
How do you like them now?
The San Francisco 49ers rallied Sunday from a 20-3 deficit to beat the Eagles 24-23 in Philadelphia and are off to a 3-1 start, a drastic turnaround from last season’s 0-5 beginning.
Despite protests about first-year coach Jim Harbaugh’s conservative game plans, despite a leaky offensive line, despite injuries and despite the return of quarterback Alex Smith – so criticized in past seasons – the NFC West-leading San Francisco 49ers have become one of the early surprises of this NFL season.
After just four games, it’s now apparent that 49ers GM Trent Baalke might have known what he was talking about in late July when he preached patience and positivity.
Back then, Baalke said:
“We do have a plan. We’re executing the plan. And I guess the only thing that’s going to tell is the test of time and how successful this plan is will be measured with how successful we become on the field.”
So far, so good.
On Sunday, Smith guided the 49ers to three second-half touchdown drives, Frank Gore – who had suffered an ankle injury against Cincinnati last week and did not start – rushed for 127 yards and the go-ahead touchdown on a 12-yard run late in the fourth quarter and the 49ers defense had three takeaways while also shutting down the NFC’s leading rusher, LeSean McCoy.
The Niners’ defense has now kept an opposing running back from rushing for 100 yards or more for 26 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the league. McCoy had just 18 yards on nine carries.
Eagles QB Michael Vick, it turned out, was the biggest threat, scrambling eight times for 75 yards, while also throwing for a career-high 416 yards. Vick’s two first-half TD throws helped put Philadelphia up 20-3 at the half.
But San Francisco answered with the final 21 points of the game, on Smith TD passes to Josh Morgan and Vernon Davis and Gore’s game-clinching run.
It was Smith’s best game of the season. He completed 21 of 33 throws for 291 yards, a passer rating of 112.1.
San Francisco sealed the victory when Justin Smith stripped the ball from Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin and safety Dashon Goldson recovered with 2:06 remaining.
It marks the first time the 49ers have won back-to-back games in the East since 2001.
Said Gore: “We just believed.”