It is impossible to overstate the importance of the 49ers’ comeback win in Philadelphia on Sunday. For the first time in years, the Niners beat a good team on the road and, most important, they finished the game when they had the lead.
They couldn’t do that against the Dallas Cowboys in the second game of the season. They had the Cowboys on the ropes with a 10-point lead and just 11 minutes left, but they let the Cowboys wriggle off the hook to tie the game and win in overtime.
Perhaps that game was a wake-up call for the 49ers, who have now come from behind to win two straight games on the road. Perhaps spending the week in Youngstown, Ohio, caused them to bond as a team. Perhaps it was just a natural maturation of the team.
Whatever the reason, this was a 49ers team that showed it knew how to finish. They seemed in great danger of losing the game when Michael Vick hit Jeremy Maclin for a 17-yard gain that would have put the Eagles in field-goal range.
But the Niners had watched video during the week that showed the Eagles often carried the ball loosely, so 49ers defensive end Justin Smith went for the ball and swatted it away. The Niners recovered and held on to win the game.
The chief beneficiary was coach Jim Harbaugh, who had been criticized frequently for a conservative offense, even as the 49ers won two of their first three games. Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman opened up the offense in the second half, letting Alex Smith throw downfield, and Smith torched the highly rated Eagles secondary, throwing for two touchdowns and setting up a third, a 12-yard run by Frank Gore.
Smith has had this kind of second half before, but it’s usually been too little, too late. This time it wasn’t, because the defense, though it gave up 505 yards, was able to hold the Eagles scoreless after they had gotten a 23-3 lead in the third quarter.
All of this is a reminder that football is still a team game. Smith’s critics, both fans and media, have acted as if he were responsible for all of the 49ers’ problems, which is ridiculous.
The truth is, Smith is a very good quarterback who has often been handicapped by inadequate receivers and pass protection, as well as terrible coaching in the regimes of the two Mikes: Nolan and Singletary.
Now, he has a very good coach and he also has the support of his teammates. Vernon Davis has been particularly vocal about that, and Gore was after the game on Sunday. That will be very important for the future of this team.
Gore also will be. Because of his ankle injury, Gore didn’t start, but he still had 15 carries for 127 yards. Rookie Kendall Hunter carried nine times for 38 yards and also had a huge pass reception, a 44-yarder from Smith that set up the first comeback touchdown.
The 49ers are still a work in progress, but Sunday’s game was the first real proof that the work is indeed progressing. Let the good times roll.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.