Quarterback Kevin Kolb led the Philadelphia Eagles into San Francisco to battle the 49ers at Candlestick Park on Sunday night, his team needing a win to keep pace with the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants in the division. With QB Michael Vick still on the shelf due to bruised ribs, Kolb needed to make a big impression on the fans as well as the Eagles' coaching staff if he hopes to win back his starting job.
If Kolb was feeling any pressure, though, he didn't let it show. After 49ers QB Alex Smith moved the ball down the field on the game's opening drive—capped off by a seven-yard TD pass to WR Michael Crabtree—Kolb went right to work.
Not to be outdone by Smith's impressive 4-4 passing for 42 yards and a score, Kolb answered back with a perfect drive of his own. He went 6-6 for 64 yards and a touchdown pass to TE Brent Celek. Anyone who doubted Kolb's ability to stretch a play with his legs would get a serving of humble pie on his TD pass play.
The play itself took 10 seconds, seven of which Kolb spent scrambling to avoid two 49er linemen and find Celek at the three yard line. Celek plowed into the end zone after the catch to tie the game at 7-7.
Smith would turn the offense over to RB Frank Gore on the next drive, but that proved ineffective. After eight carries, Gore had only gained 10 yards. The Eagles defense had come to play, and on Gore's next carry the Eagles forced a fumble.
Kolb took advantage of the short field, completing three more passes in a row and setting up an Eagles field goal, giving them a 10-7 lead.
On the 49ers' third drive, Alex Smith threw the game's first incompletion—and it landed in the hands of Eagles DB Dimitri Patterson for the game's first pick. The Eagles ran the ball a couple of times with RB LeSean McCoy for 17 yards and a first down, but the drive stalled shortly thereafter, as the 49ers got their first sack on a third and nine with 5:36 to play in the first half.
After an Eagles punt, the defense once again did their job. They held the 49ers to a three and out, giving the Eagles one more chance to score before the half and stretch the lead.
Kolb and McCoy took full advantage of the opportunity. On first down, Kolb found DeSean Jackson deep over the middle for 20 yards. On second down, a short pass to Jackson set up a 29-yard touchdown run from McCoy. The drive took three plays and went 53 yards, putting the Eagles up 17-10.
The second quarter also brought the first real blunder of the night for Kolb. Three plays into a drive, Matt Lawson forced a Kolb fumble. Alex Smith capitalized, throwing a strike to Crabtree for 13 yards. A play later, however, Nedney missed a chance to cut into the lead, failing on a 40-yard field goal.
The Eagles took a knee on the next play. The halftime score was 17-10, in favor of the Eagles. Kolb was 12-14 with 143 yards and a TD pass.
For the first time this season, we'd had a chance to see a settled-in Kevin Kolb play through a whole half of un-Vick-erupted football. He looked good in the first half, but could he do it for an entire game?
Kolb began to answer that question with his first throw of the third quarter. On second and five on the Eagles' first drive of the half, Kolb threw a beautiful pass down the left sideline to Jeremy Maclin in single coverage for a gain of 33 yards. The Eagles gained only one more yard on that drive though, and so began the struggle for field position.
On the 49ers' ensuing drive, Gore fumbled again, this time on the Philly 44 yard line. The Eagles recovered, but after picking up one first down, the Eagles were faced with the decision to go for it on fourth and one at the San Francisco 30 yard line. Kolb kept the play alive as long as he could, but TE Brent Celek couldn't hang onto a pass over the middle to move the chains.
The Eagles defense were giving up nothing on this night though, and the 49ers were forced to punt yet again, this time on a three and out.
The punt sailed 51 yards, all the way to the Eagles' 15 yard line, where WR DeSean Jackson got one yard on the return before being pushed out of bounds. The Eagles threw a good mix of run and pass at the 49ers defense on the drive, but the play of the drive was a 19 yard scramble by Kolb on third and 18 to keep the drive alive—Michael who?
Still, the drive stalled, and to make matters worse, Philly kicker David Akers missed a 53-yard field goal attempt.
However, the 49ers' enthusiasm after the missed kick quickly turned to horror when Alex Smith fumbled three plays into the drive. The ball was scooped up by Eagles' safety Quintin Mikell for a 52-yard fumble return for a TD, giving the Eagles a 24-10 lead.
The Boo Birds came out in full force on the following 49ers drive. It started as mere boos on first down, but after three straight downs of incomplete passes, the chant, "We want Carr,"—the 49ers' backup QB—came cascading from the upper deck all the way to the front row in Candlestick Park.
The Eagles went three and out again, but 49ers head coach Mike Singletary didn't give in to the crowd's demands. Alex Smith came back onto the field and began to move the ball down the field as if he'd been doing it all night.
Smith made important strikes to TE Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree to move the 49ers down the field and get to them into a first and goal situation. On that first down play, Smith threw a strike into double coverage to Davis for a TD, cutting the Eagles' lead to seven again, 24-17.
The Eagles got the ball back with 7:35 left on the game clock on their own 35 yard line, with a chance for Kolb to put the game away. On first down, Kolb found Maclin over the middle for a gain of 22 yards across midfield. On the second play of the drive, McCoy fumbled, but it was recovered by the Eagles across the first down marker.
After another run that went nowhere, the Kolb threw a WR screen to the sideline to get the Eagles into field-goal range. The next play, a third down pass, was dropped by Celek at the five yard line. Akers connected on a 46-yard field goal to give the Eagles a two-score lead.
The 49ers would not give up, though. 49ers WR Ted Ginn, who had been returning kicks well all night, brought the ball across the Eagles 40 to give the 49ers great field position. Once again, Alex Smith was called upon to keep his team in the game.
Smith did all he could, scrambling for 11 yards and completing back to back passes to Crabtree for 25 yards. He completed yet another pass—this time to Josh Morgan—to set up a first and goal from the one yard line with under 2:30 to play in regulation. Two plays later, Smith threw a teardrop pass to Frank Gore for a touchdown, making the score 27-24 in favor of the Eagles with 2:02 left on the clock.
After an Eagles three-and-out, the 49ers had one final chance to even the score.
Smith threw a strike on third down to Vernon Davis over the middle to get them across midfield and closer to field goal range. His next pass was to the flat for Gore, who had more green in front of him than a par five at St. Andrews, but the Eagles knocked the ball down before it ever got there.
The game was effectively over on the next play, when Smith was clobbered and forced to under-throw everyone in a 49ers uniform, resulting in a pick.
The Eagles won the game 27-24, but the real story was the play of Kevin Kolb. He threw the ball accurately and with strength, kept plays alive with his feet, and made big plays almost every time the Eagles needed him to.
And so, the plot thickens once again in Philadelphia. In Kolb's first full (non-Vick) game this season, he went 21-31 for 253 yards with one TD pass and no interceptions and passer rating of 103.3. While Kolb was the original starter of this team, Eagles head coach Andy Reid has said Vick will be the starter when he's healthy—but we've heard this story before from Reid.
Whether or not this game will provoke a change in the lineup, it will certainly spark debate among fans and sportswriters alike. The game is over, but the QB controversy in Philadelphia is far from finished.