Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

49ers-Eagles: Goal line stand turns the tide after shaky 49ers start

Sep 19, 2021 at 4:11 PM--

If there was one significant turning point in the San Francisco 49ers' 17-11 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, it was most likely the unexpected goal line stand members of the defense produced after a 91-yard pass put their backs against the wall in the second quarter.

Down 3-0 to the Eagles with just over seven minutes remaining in the half, the 49ers had a long field behind them after a punt from Mitch Wishnowsky pinned the Eagles at their own three-yard line. But on the first play after the punt, Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts went deep for wide receiver Quez Watkins, who went for 91 yards before being brought down by safety Jaquiski Tartt and cornerback Deommodore Lenoir at the 49ers' six-yard line. A pass interference call on cornerback Josh Norman two plays later gave the Eagles a 1st-and-Goal at the one-yard line.

What happened next couldn't have been more clutch as the 49ers held firm on defense, forcing the Eagles to turn the ball over on downs. Then their offense, which had struggled throughout much of the first half, marched downfield on a 97-yard drive of its own that ended with a touchdown pass from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to wide receiver Jauan Jennings right before halftime.

The goal line stand marked the second consecutive defensive series where the 49ers took potential Eagles points off the board. The series before the goal line stand ended in a blocked field goal, but it was the defense keeping the Eagles from taking a 10-0 lead when it seemed like all but a sure thing that wound up being the point in the game where the momentum shifted for good.

"I'm sure there were a lot of moments that mattered, but that one was really big," linebacker Fred Warner said after the game. "We all had the right mindset down there. It doesn't matter if we gave up a big play or not -- we can't let them in the paint. They took their chance and tried to go for it on fourth down and we held up strong."

The first play of the goal line stand went for an incomplete pass, then the second play saw Warner tackle running back Miles Sanders for a three-yard loss. Hurts then ran out of bounds for a one-yard gain on third down, then the Eagles reached into their bag of trick plays on fourth down and sent Hurts into the end zone as a target of a pass from wide receiver Greg Ward. The pass was incomplete, and the 49ers took possession after a pivotal sequence.

"Everybody has a job," defensive end Nick Bosa said Sunday. "When you do your job, everything should be covered up. We did an amazing job just sticking with it and not giving up easy points there. In a game like that it's huge and it was the difference."

Bosa even assumed that Watkins was going to score on his catch, but after Tartt and Lenoir caught him from behind (which they did despite the fact Watkins' run was clocked as being the fastest by an NFL player to that point in the season), the defense got to work.

"When I saw that bomb I was ready to run off the field," Bosa said. "I thought he was gone, and I think Quiski (safety Jaquiski Tartt) ran him down or somebody got him down. We jogged our way down there and hung tough. Biggest sequence of the game for sure."

The trick play the Eagles ran was the latest version of their famous Philly Special play that they successfully executed for a touchdown in Super Bowl LII. But the Eagles haven't been the only team to run that play since then, so it didn't fool the 49ers too much.

"I think that was the Philly Special Super Bowl play, and since people have done that, you've got to be ready for it every week," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said Sunday.

The goal line stand was the biggest moment in what was by and large a solid performance by the 49ers defense one week after it had to hold off a furious rally in a 41-33 win over the Lions in Detroit. The 49ers held the Eagles to three points on Sunday before giving up a fourth quarter touchdown and were able to make enough big plays throughout the day to be a decisive factor in the win.

"They were huge," Shanahan said. "I thought they did a good job not giving them too many freebies. It's always a challenge when you've got a running quarterback and you've got their receivers who are threats always on screens and bubbles and stuff... But the resilience of the D was great."

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