Carson Wentz, hobbled Eagles outlast 49ers, as defense steps up with three turnovers in 25-20 victory
Sometimes it was painful to watch, but Wentz persevered and he got help from an undrafted rookie, Travis Fulgham, and a turnover-happy defense.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Travis Fulgham? Alex Singleton?
Household names throughout the Delaware Valley on Monday, after they made the crucial fourth-quarter plays that led your NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles to their first victory of the season, 25-20, over the host San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night at Levi’s Stadium.
Fulgham, a 2019 Detroit Lions sixth-round pick called up from the Eagles’ practice squad, caught a left sideline pass from Carson Wentz and took it 42 yards, somersaulting over the pylon with the touchdown that gave the Eagles the lead, with 5 minutes, 50 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
Wentz said he and Fulgham had repped the touchdown play exactly once.
“Obviously, a limited amount of time on task with Travis,” Wentz said. He said when they broke the huddle, on second and 18 from the 49ers' 42, he told Fulgham to be ready.
“That’s something he can do well — he tracks the ball well,” Wentz said.
Fulgham bobbled the ball but kept control while fending off a would-be tackler. It was his second NFL catch, his first having come earlier in the game.
“At first, I actually lost the ball, but since Carson gave me a great throw, I was able to locate it, and it was right in the bread basket,” Fulgham said.
Singleton is the former Canadian Football League linebacker who has played mostly special teams the last two seasons. A hamstring injury to T.J. Edwards gave Singleton some snaps in the defense. On the first snap after Fulgham’s touchdown, Singleton intercepted a Nick Mullens pass and sprinted 30 yards to the end zone for the first double-digit lead the Eagles had held since the first half of the opener.
“He kinda threw the ball right to me. My heart kind of skipped a beat, and then I just went with it,” Singleton said. “I knew I had to get in the end zone; we talked about it all week. To score on defense was the only thing going through my mind.”
It was Singleton’s first touchdown since his junior year at Montana State, and the Eagles' first defensive touchdown of the season.
"These guys don’t quit,” coach Doug Pederson said. “They’re a resilient group.”
Fulgham has been “flashing in practice,” the coach said. “He’s got a good relationship with Carson on the football field.”
He said Singleton is “kind of the unsung hero, a four-core special-teams player. He just battles. It was a great play by him.”
Earlier, this looked much harder, maybe even impossible, given all the pieces that were missing. The Eagles were trying to claw their way past a 49ers team that also was missing key starters — but seemed to have more depth, as defending NFC champions. The 49ers also had a weapon the Eagles were ill-equipped to manage, star tight end George Kittle, who caught 15 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown.
But the fourth quarter was a strong show of determination from a flawed team, and especially from Wentz, who finished 18-for-28 for 193 yards, a touchdown, and an interception, along with 37 rushing yards and a TD on 11 carries.
“He played inspired,” Pederson said. “Gutted out several plays.”
The Eagles got the ball for that Fulgham touchdown when Cre’Von LeBlanc stuck his helmet on it while sacking Mullens. Malik Jackson recovered at the San Francisco 42, but the Eagles endured a 12-yard loss on an Adrian Killins reverse and an 8-yard loss on a Jalen Hurts fumbled snap before the Fulgham touchdown. They also had to convert fourth-and-4 from the 49ers' 36, Wentz hitting rookie John Hightower for nine yards, just before the 12-yard Killins loss.
Earlier, Wentz started out shaky, as he was through the 0-2-1 start. With right tackle Lane Johnson (ankle) on the bench and Jason Kelce left as his only true offensive line starter, Wentz moved the Eagles from his 28 to the 49ers' 40 on the team’s second series of the evening. Then he scrambled, ducked out of a sack, threw as he was slammed by Javon Kinlaw, saw Kinlaw block the pass, and watched Aziz Al-Shaair make a diving catch of the batted ball.
This was Wentz’s seventh pick of the season, matching his total for the entirety of 2019. It was again a product of Wentz’s trying to do too much, trying to save a broken play.
But the Eagles defense held, thanks to a third-down Derek Barnett sack, and Wentz shook off the interception, driving the visitors 78 yards on eight plays for a touchdown. Wentz continued the previous week’s trend of using his legs purposefully. He faked a handoff to Boston Scott and went in standing from 11 yards out.
Then Pederson, perhaps smarting from losing some cred as an aggressive coach last week on the late-overtime punt against Cincinnati, called for a two-point conversion try. Wentz rolled right and hit Zach Ertz, who was wide open, just like old times. 8-0, Eagles.
It took San Francisco exactly six plays to get the touchdown back, with wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk going 38 yards with a screen that was technically a lateral, making it a touchdown run. Aiyuk broke a couple of tackles and then hurdled safety Marcus Epps near the goal line. Kyle Shanahan did not go for two, though, and the Eagles had an 8-7 lead at halftime.
A drive died when left tackle Jordan Mailata, making his first NFL start with Jason Peters on injured reserve, false-started on third-and-1. Wentz had to throw the ball away on third-and-6. It was an understandable mistake for a player experiencing his first significant snaps, but a killer for an offense whose offensive line was something out of a preseason game, and whose wide receiving corps was so green that Greg Ward was its most senior member, playing in his 11th game. Johnson was able to return in the second half, and things settled down a little.
Rodney McLeod’s interception, the first turnover forced by the Eagles defense this season, gave the Eagles the ball at their 27 with 2:40 remaining in the half, but their attempt to add to their lead died, for practical purposes, when a Jason Kelce snap sailed past Wentz’s ear. The quarterback tracked the ball down for a 17-yard loss.
The 49ers moved right down the field after getting the second-half kickoff, taking the lead on a 5-yard touchdown pass to Kittle that ended a 12-play, 75-yard drive.
Then Wentz led the Eagles back downfield on a laborious drive that showed how hobbled the offense is right now. It took 16 plays to drive 62 yards for a 35-yard Jake Elliott field goal that brought the visitors within 14-11, which was the score as the game entered the final quarter.
At that point, Wentz had completed 15 of 24 passes for just 140 yards and the interception. Miles Sanders had 11 carries for just 44 yards, plus a 28-yard reception.
The 49ers made it interesting after the Singleton touchdown, as C.J. Beathard came in for Mullens, who was in for usual starter Jimmy Garoppolo. Beathard led a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, but the two-point try was unsuccessful.
Beathard got the 49ers to the Eagles' 33 in the final seconds. His Hail Mary on the final play was batted out of bounds.
Wentz willed a decimated Eagles team into the playoffs last season. He was asked Sunday night if he ever thought he’d be in a similar (maybe worse?) situation.
“This is the hand we’re dealt,” Wentz said. “Guys have been ready, they’ve been working their tails off for their moment, when it comes. … Hats off to these guys for staying ready and being locked in like they were tonight.”