Despite facing the team with the NFL’s worst record over the past two-plus seasons, the Philadelphia Eagles are highly unlikely to ease up at any point on Sunday even if they have a commanding lead.
One week after dominating a reigning division champion for three quarters only to collapse, the Eagles look to start picking up the pieces when they visit the San Francisco 49ers.
Philadelphia (1-1) thoroughly outplayed the New York Giants to take a 17-point lead into the fourth quarter last Sunday, but lost 30-24 in overtime.
“After the first half, I never thought in a million years those guys would come back and beat us,” Eagles middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said. “We have to take advantage of opportunities when we get a team down. We have to put our foot on their throat.”
Instead of putting the game away and making a statement against an NFC East rival, Philadelphia folded.
In the fourth quarter, the offense failed to convert a 4th-and-1 on the New York 38 with under 9 minutes left, Brian Westbrook fumbled with 4 minutes to go and defensive end Trent Cole’s personal-foul penalty on the next-to-last play of regulation set up Jay Feely’s tying 35-yard field goal.
“It’s just one loss. I think everyone has seen the capability of the things we can do out there on the field,” said Donovan McNabb, who passed for 350 yards and two touchdowns. “I think it’s going to be something that we can put behind us and move on and good things will happen for us.”
The Eagles now face a San Francisco team which is a league-worst 7-27 since the start of the 2004 season, though the 49ers (1-1) have opened with a close loss at Arizona and a 20-13 win over St. Louis last week.
Philadelphia is 21-8 after a loss since 2000, the second-best mark in the NFL.
The latest defeat was particularly costly, however, because Jevon Kearse suffered a serious knee injury and the team learned Monday the two-time All-Pro defensive end would miss the rest of the season.
Kearse had 2 1/2 of Philadelphia’s eight sacks against the Giants, and had been a leader on a revamped defensive line. The Eagles have an NFL-best 13 sacks this season, including 12 from a defensive front that had just 21 1/2 of the team’s 29 sacks last year.
McNabb has looked sharp in both games, completing 51 of 80 passes for 664 yards with five touchdowns and one interception.
McNabb had one of the best games of his eight-year career last season against San Francisco. He threw for 342 yards, matched a career high with five touchdown passes and had no interceptions in a 42-3 rout.
The 49ers are looking to open a season with consecutive home wins for the first time since 1999. They have won only five of their last 18 games at home.
San Francisco’s young offense has looked like an improved unit early this season. Alex Smith passed for 233 yards and a touchdown last week, while Frank Gore rushed for a career-high 127 yards and a touchdown.
The defense sacked St. Louis’ Marc Bulger six times, and has nine sacks this season after finishing last year with just 28.
“I think there is a real belief by our players that they are getting there,” 49ers coach Mike Nolan said.
San Francisco had just three rushing touchdowns and three passing touchdowns of more than 20 yards last season, but had one of each last Sunday.
The 49ers displayed their playmaking ability as Gore had a 32-yard touchdown run just after halftime, and three minutes later, Smith hit Antonio Bryant in full stride for a 72-yard score.
“It totally shows us that we’re making progress to being the team we want to be,” Smith said. “It gives you confidence when you can show you have that big-play potential. We’ve been working hard, and we’re getting better.”
Gore rushed for 608 yards and three touchdowns last season as a rookie behind Kevin Barlow, and has shown he can handle the workload of being a starter. He has 214 yards and three touchdowns on the ground along with eight receptions for 93 yards through two games.
San Francisco has not started a season 2-1 since 2002, when it finished 10-6 to win the NFC West. It has not been to the playoffs since.