Before the San Francisco 49ers left for their week three matchup versus the Cincinnati Bengals, head coach Jim Harbaugh stated that he intended to have his team stay on the East Coast in order to be better rested and more prepared for their week four matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The plan seemed to pay off nicely.
The 49ers improved to 3-1 on the still young season while dropping the Philadelphia Eagles to an unimpressive 1-3. More impressive for San Francisco were the performances of Alex Smith, who passed for 291 yards with two touchdowns, and Frank Gore, who rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown.
Both players had been criticized early on in the season for lackluster production. Gore, who had yet to reach the level of play this season that San Francisco fans had come to expect from him, finally was able to turn the tide and help deliver the first back-to-back road wins for the 49ers since 2006.
After a disappointing breakdown loss to the Dallas Cowboys at home in week two, followed by a lackluster win against the Bengals in week three, San Francisco has started to show signs that they may be able to compete for a playoff berth in 2011. Week 4's matchup against the struggling Eagles would put those signs to the test.
The game did not start out well for the 49ers however.
San Francisco's defense struggled to contain Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, who rushed for 75 yards and threw for a career high 416 yards.
At first, their defense seemed capable of keeping Philadelphia out of the end zone despite giving up significant yardage. However, at the 4:08 mark of the first quarter, the Eagles jumped out ahead thanks to a Clay Harbor 16-yard touchdown reception.
The 49ers efforts seemed to echo similar stories that had plagued them for too many forgetful seasons in recent years. San Francisco again struggled in the red zone and was only able to muster a single field goal by the half. Philadelphia responded with two field goals of their own along with another touchdown reception by LeSean McCoy with 38 seconds remaining before halftime.
San Francisco headed into the locker room trailing Philadelphia 20-3, resembling results that seemed all too familiar to fans when the 49ers faced off against the much more heralded NFC East teams.
Despite a field goal from Eagles kicker Alex Henery, which started the second half scoring, the 49ers were able to bounce back nicely.
Two unanswered touchdown receptions by Josh Morgan and Vernon Davis brought the game back into reach of the 49ers. Smith seemed more capable in looking down the field for receivers. This spread out Philadelphia's defense and gave San Francisco more options.
That, combined with Philadelphia's breakdown, came to a head in the fourth quarter.
Henery, who had replaced longtime Eagles kicker and current 49er David Akers, missed two key field goals in the fourth quarter; one from 39 yards out and another from 33. Those lost points would prove critical in the game's final moments.
The 49ers responded with momentum as the resurgent Gore rushed for a 12-yard touchdown run with three minutes left in regulation. Akers' extra point put the 49ers ahead 24-23.
With plenty of time left on the clock, Philadelphia seemed poised to put themselves into position to take the lead. Vick was able to move the Eagles offense down the field into 49ers territory in an attempt to retake the lead. Ball handling, however, would prove to be fatal for Philadelphia's chances.
A Vick pass to Jeremy Maclin at the 2:15 mark was knocked loose by 49ers defensive end Justin Smith and recovered by free safety Dashon Goldson. The turnover, right before the two minute warning, put the ball back into San Francisco's offense for the duration of the game.
Gore was able to rush for an additional 26 yards as the two minute warning passed and Philadelphia was forced to burn their remaining time outs.
With that, San Francisco sealed their third win of the season and second-consecutive road win.
For Philadelphia, it was another story of a fourth quarter debacle, their third in as many weeks. Questions shall certainly arise as to the Eagles' ability to put away teams late in games as the season continues.
For San Francisco, the game may be another small step in the direction of the playoffs. While the Eagles made their fair share of mistakes, the 49ers were able to capitalize on them and earn themselves a much needed road win and the chance to retain momentum heading back home.