The San Francisco 49ers under Jim Harbaugh trailed 20-3 at halftime as they trotted off Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania this past Sunday. There was a real euphoria across the field with Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and head coach Andy Reid that their so called, "Dream Team," had and would sustain utter domination of the West Coast team that had no real outside support to believe differently other than what was inside themselves.
Jim Harbaugh's insightful analysis of what had happened in the first half and what he told his players in that locker room caused his players to stir emotionally, as did quarterback Alex Smith himself, in not finding the panic switch that was previously so often a part of the psychology to this team. How the team responded to this deficit and the way they approached the third quarter will be something all of us will probably talk about for our lifetime when you consider the odds of playing against such a premier team as the Philadelphia Eagles and an even more prolific superstar quarterback in Michael Vick at the helm. I have to say and note that the speed of this team and array of weapons that Michael Vick himself was an integral part of was in essence mentally and physically dominating.
Turnovers and great defense helped keep us in this game with the Philadelphia Eagles losing two fumbles and Michael Vick throwing a costly interception. The most electrifying was when 49er defensive end Justin Smith chased down Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and punched the ball out of his seemingly loose grasp causing the fumble that 49er safety Dashon Goldson recovered.
Other great moments that helped turn the tide was Eagles running back Ronnie Brown's attempted backward pass as he was going down that resulted in a fumble right at our goal line on third-and-one. Parys Haralson stuffed him into the turf for such a saving grace to us. And of course there was the interception by 49er cornerback Carlos Rodgers in the first quarter who has filled the void left by high-priced Nate Clements so admirably.
Great appreciation again goes to San Francisco 49er defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, and their well-coached units in bending but never really breaking for our ineffective offensive bloopers in the first half where we only netted seven first downs to the Eagles fifteen. There was practically a four minute sway in time to the Eagles as they played routinely against our hard-worked defense. Now when you look at the yardage the Philadelphia Eagles accumulated with 513 total yards with Michael Vick rushing for 75 of those yards, you would think that it is foolish to praise the defensive unit for giving up such extreme yardage based on the facts we were ineffective at containing them. However, there were too many highlights where our defense just shined and yielded only field goals instead of touchdowns to keep the score within reach. 49er safety Dashon Goldson had 10 total tackles, a pass broken up and a fumble recovery.
49er linebacker Navorro Bowman continued to play like rabid dog in executing two tackles for losses, a pass broken up, and a fumble recovery. And let's not forget our 2010 first round draft pick, Aldon Smith, recording 1.5 sacks and acting when the game was still seemingly on the line at that point. All the little things really added up in our ability to checkmate the high-octane offense of Michael Vicks Philadelphia Eagles. Now for the offense and Alex Smith, clearly three of the five penalties committed by the 49ers were in the first quarter and that hurt its offensive synchronicity. The offensive line minus right guard Chilo Rachal and with Adam Snyder executing far better than what was expected; yet that is not to say still that there is no room for improvement considering Smith was still sacked three times for a loss of 13 yards. Smith while stepping up and into the pocket as it is collapsing is still very ineffective as it was noted before by former 49er defensive coach and now Fox analyst Jim Mora Jr.
If there is anything that was clear, it was that he is still struggling with accuracy. Balls were under thrown with the ball driving into the turf right before the feet of a receiver and over thrown as well. Boot legging and breaking the pocket to the outside seems to be a strength he is maturing in. His self-confidence in himself is the truest sign that something did happen in him as he turned on the heat in the third quarter to throw for 179 total yards and threw for two touchdowns and ended with a high rating of 112.1. Yet in the first half he honestly looked as if he was not comfortable and then a transition took hold that countered with complete execution. An entire game of consistency is needed to further evaluate where he truly is. And Aaron Rodgers he still is not.
Note to Frank Gore as he played in this game as the back-up rather than the starter because of his injured right ankle. Still, he ran for a season high 127 total yards at 8.5-yards per carry and delivered the knockout touchdown in the last quarter of play. 49er running back Kendall Hunter played exceptionally in this game with a short pass for 44-yards that sparked the third quarter resurgence of the 49ers in coming from behind. And he helped set-up Frank Gore's touchdown with a 14-yard run on third-and-seven which was memorizing.
Simple truth is that the San Francisco 49ers cannot rest and they must continue to push in order to spark the outsiders to notice that we are for real this time. At (3-1) we have a lot to be proud of, but never at all content, as Jim pointed out that its always better to be going in with an "underdog type of mentality all the time rather than as someone who is caught up in the immediate hype." Jim Harbaugh and his coaching staff have made a unique and distinct difference with all the players and he has won a sense of loyalty from all of them. That is a heck of a way to signal this new sense of self-confidence. The man from Stanford has us fans intrigued but not yet committed to trust wholeheartedly.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.