Birds top 49ers; Take lead in NFC East
Week 4 of this NFL season has reminded the Eagles just how fickle this league can be. Last week, amid a rash of injuries and a pattern of poor play from quarterback Carson Wentz, the Eagles season looked next to hopeless. This week, after a Sunday night 25-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers and losses from the Cowboys, Giants, and Washington Football Team, the Eagles find themselves atop their division. This is the case despite their record of 1-2-1 that couldn’t possibly be labelled anything other than mediocre.
But the way things are looking, mediocrity might be all a team needs to win the dismal NFC East. It certainly was enough Sunday night when the Birds were fortunate enough to do battle with a 49ers team that was missing its starting quarterback (Jimmy Garoppolo), starting running back (Raheem Mostert), and key defensive playmakers (Nick Bosa and Richard Sherman).
Even so, the beginning of the matchup looked scary when Wentz took a hit on the Eagles opening drive that resulted in the ball flying errantly upwards and into the hands of 49ers linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair for an early interception. However, the Eagles defense held strong against 49ers backup quarterback Nick Mullens and gave the ball back to Wentz and company with great field position. Wentz once again ran the ball effectively, picking up a key first down and taking the ball into the endzone himself on a quarterback option. After hitting tight end Zach Ertz for a successful two point conversion, the Eagles were up 8-0.
The 49ers immediately responded on the following drive; delivering a highlight play when rookie wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk ran 38 yards and leapt over an Eagles defender for an acrobatic score. The Eagles had a chance to put more points on the board after Rodney McLeod picked off Mullens toward the end of the first half. Sadly, a wild snap killed Wentz’s two minute drill and kept the second quarter scoreless. The first half ended with the Eagles holding a narrow 8-7 edge.
The 49ers started the second half impressively, with a long drive capped off by a Mullens touchdown strike to tight end George Kittle. As is often the case, Kittle was absolutely unstoppable in this contest, ultimately catching 15 passes for a whopping 183 yards and one touchdown. The Eagles could only muster a field goal in response and found themselves trailing 14-11 after three quarters of play.
A massive momentum shift occurred early in the fourth quarter. First, Cre’Von LeBlanc sacked Mullens and forced a fumble that fellow defender Malik Jackson recovered. This led to Wentz’s best throw of the day, a 42 yard bomb down the sideline to Travis Fulgham for the go-ahead touchdown. Even more gifts were in store for the Eagles, as Mullens threw the ball right to defensive back Alex Singleton on the very next play. Singleton promptly returned the ball all the way for another score. In the blink of an eye, the Birds were up 25-14.
It was at this point that the 49ers substituted third-string quarterback CJ Beathard for the struggling Nick Mullens. Beathard played well and rallied the 49ers offense to a late game touchdown, but Kittle dropped the two point conversion attempt (likely his only mistake of the day) and there wasn’t enough time for any comeback to materialize. The Eagles, at long last, had secured their first victory of the season.
The game wasn’t always pretty for the Eagles, but they got the W and that’s what matters most. Wentz still looks shaky through the air, but it’s tough to gauge if that is the result of having such a strange supporting receiving cast or his own doing. Either way, he has leaned more on his legs the last two weeks and found success.
The Eagles will try to turn this win into a winning streak when they play the undefeated Steelers next week. The Steelers are coming off an impromptu bye resulting from the multiple positive cases of Covid from the Tennessee Titans (their intended week 4 opponent)