Kevin Kolb had his moments of pressure and doubt caused by a good 49er defensive front, absorbing 4 sacks and 5 quarterback hits...but overall, Kolb managed his game plan well, and showed above-average mobility to minimize the damages.
Trevor Laws may have saved the game for the Birds...the 6-1, 304 DT (3rd year, Notre Dame) put a deep-pocket pursuit and chest-to-chest hit on QB Alex Smith with 28 seconds left, resulting in a wobbly pass and an easy game-ending pick for CB Trevard Lindley.
This is the way it's gonna have to be for the Eagles in 2010... Scrap like boy-dogs fighting over a bone in the rain, accept every handout the local convenience store gives you, and hope like crazy you don't get hit by lightning in the parking lot.
I finally get a chance to use my favorite sports joke: "Hey, congrats to Alex Smith...he's the game's MVP, 'cause he kept both teams in the game!"
A strange game it was, indeed, and Alex Smith just adds to the weirdness. The young QB torched the soft coverage of the Eagles' LB's and secondary for 309 yards, with a whole bunch of those yards going to the great TE Vernon Davis, whom Stewart Bradley at MLB just could not contain due to foot-speed and lateral-movement issues. Yet, Smith also kept giving the ball away to the Eagles with the kind of mistakes he should have outgrown by now. Well, at least that's how Alex' coach (Mike Singletary) saw it.
It seemed Smith's day was over in the 3rd when he and Singletary got into it on the sideline, as the crowd at Candlestick was booing and chanting, "We want Carr (Smith's backup)!"... Anger and disagreement between the two was written all over the camera coverage of the sideline discussion...I'm a lousy lip-reader, but I'm pretty sure I correctly translated Singletary at one point yelling, "Whaat? You got to be kidding!!"...
But for all the sideline drama and the unforced errors and fumbles that could be laid at Smith's feet, he always seems to rally and play better when he's mad. It's been that way since college for him. Maybe Singletary knew that.
So all Smith did from the point of going back into the game was lead two late TD drives, especially showcasing the talents of his WR Michael Crabtree as well as the aforementioned Davis, and nearly pulling off a comeback win on national TV against an Eagles team that thought the hay was already in the barn.
The air stats of Smith are somewhat deceiving, since they cover up the fact that the Eagles concentrated all game long on stopping Frank Gore and the run...a task the Birds are not known for, but a job they pulled off very nicely. The Eagles gave up a total of only 74 yards on the ground. To me, that is the key stat of the game, and the main reason the Eagles remained in position to steal this game back after they nearly gave it away in the 4th.
Meanwhile, the Eagles got a little ground game of their own going...LeSean McCoy had a solid game rushing for 92 yards and catching passes in the flat for 46 more. Yes, there were two dramatic moments near the end, one where Shady coughed up the ball on a helmet-hit fumble (luckily, and due to great hustle, guard Todd Herremans followed the play and scooped up the miscue), and another where McCoy inexplicitly grounded himself 2 yards short of a first down in the open field, thus causing the Birds to punt the ball back to San Fran.
But with 5 giveaways by the 49ers, and the rise and fall and rise and fall of Alex Smith, it was the more steady offensive direction of Kolb (21 for 31 for 253 yards, a TD to Celek, QB rating above 100) and the Eagles defensive line rush that will be the long-term memory bank deposits from this game for me.
The Eagles may be hurting right now on the offensive line if LT Jason Peters cannot shake off another knee injury which limited him in the 49ers game...but the defensive line is shining. There was relentless pursuit and run stoppage all game long by the tackle rotation of Brodrick Bunkley (left with sprained elbow), Mike Patterson, Antonio Dixon and Laws...and a ferocious boy-dog attack from the edges led by DE's Darryl Tapp, Trent Cole (left with hamstring), Brandon Graham and Juqua Parker.
What a difference a strong pass rush makes this year, especially when the Eagles are still thin at linebacker and constantly finding themselves in lousy field position due to a Special Teams coverage unit that is just not containing...well, much of anything. Right now, there's nothing special at all about ST coverage for the Birds. But a strong pass rush and pretty good safety play so far have given the Eagles a temporary hedge against the dreadful kick coverages.
Almost lost in the crazy antics and the wild finish to this game is the credit 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky should get for the adjustments made against the Eagles at the half...Manusky effectively took away the Eagles' vertical passing game and stretch-run offense, and allowed only 3 points in the second half. The game film of what Manusky and his defensive unit did to the Eagles offense in the second half will be widely studied around the league...I'm sure Atlanta is looking at it as we speak.