October 2, 2012

1994: Eagles Dominate 49ers in Stunning Upset

The San Francisco 49ers had made it to the NFC Championship game in 1992 and ’93 and were 3-1 thus far in 1994 as they hosted the Philadelphia Eagles on October 2. Head Coach George Seifert’s team had outstanding talent, with QB Steve Young, WR Jerry Rice, and RB Ricky Watters on offense and a revamped defense that included DT Dana Stubblefield, CB Deion Sanders, and safeties Tim McDonald and Merton Hanks.

Philadelphia was coming off its bye week and had a 2-1 record. Under Head Coach Rich Kotite, the Eagles were coming off an 8-8 record in ’93 and hoping to bounce back with a healthy Randall Cunningham at quarterback, a good wide receiver tandem in Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams, multipurpose RB Herschel Walker – and a small (5’9”, 181) but promising rookie, RB Charlie Garner, who was ready to see action after missing the previous contests with a rib injury. DE William Fuller was a solid free agent addition to the defense that, while decimated by key players who had gone elsewhere as free agents in recent offseasons, still included CB Eric Allen, MLB Byron Evans, and OLB William Thomas.

It was a pleasant afternoon at Candlestick Park with 64,711 fans in attendance. The Eagles set the tone in the first drive of the game as Cunningham completed all five of his passes, including three to Calvin Williams that totaled 56 yards, and Charlie Garner took a pitchout and ran the final yard for a touchdown to cap an impressive 10-play, 75-yard series.

San Francisco no sooner got the ball for the first time when Steve Young was intercepted by Allen and, on the next play, Garner ran off tackle for a 28-yard TD. It was 14-0 and the 49ers had run just one play from scrimmage.

The Niners punted following their next possession and the Eagles, taking over from their nine yard line, advanced to the San Francisco 35 before punting on the final play of the opening period. Mitch Berger’s kick was a good one, going out of bounds on the three and setting the stage for another Philadelphia score early in the second quarter when Young was tackled in the end zone by William Fuller for a safety.

Philadelphia drove to another score after receiving the free kick. Garner started the series off with a 16-yard run and, on two more consecutive plays, ran for another 12 yards. Following two incomplete passes, Cunningham fired long for WR Victor Bailey on third-and-10, who made a leaping catch in the end zone for a touchdown. Eddie Murray’s third successful extra point increased Philadelphia’s lead by 23-0 at barely over three minutes into the second quarter.

Young came out passing when the 49ers got the ball back and the result was a 15-play drive that covered 66 yards. Along the way, he completed a throw to Rice for a 16-yard gain on third-and-17 and then converted the resulting fourth-and-one play with another toss to Rice for nine more yards. Young capped the possession with a one-yard sneak for a touchdown and then threw to TE Brent Jones for a two-point conversion that made the tally 23-8. It would prove to be the high point of the day for San Francisco.

The Eagles responded by going 65 yards in eight plays following WR Jeff Sydner’s 28-yard kickoff return. The big play was a 28-yard gain on a pass from Cunningham to Garner out of the backfield. Herschel Walker ran for a two-yard TD and Philadelphia took a stunning 30-8 lead into halftime.

In a half of action, Charlie Garner had gained 94 yards rushing on 12 carries and Calvin Williams accumulated 95 yards on 7 pass receptions.

The second half was anticlimactic. On their second possession of the third quarter, Murray kicked a 36-yard field goal to add to Philadelphia’s lead. Elvis Grbac replaced Young before the period was over after the veteran passer, who was hit hard and often, was sacked by Fuller. Cunningham’s 18-yard touchdown pass to TE Mark Bavaro in the fourth quarter made the final score an improbable 40-8.

Philadelphia’s domination was complete as the Eagles outgained the 49ers by 437 yards to 189 and generated 26 first downs to 11 for San Francisco. The Eagles didn’t turn the ball over at all or give up any sacks while the Niners turned the ball over three times and gave up three sacks. It was the worst defeat the 49ers had suffered during George Seifert’s coaching reign (he succeeded Bill Walsh in 1989) and the worst since a 49-3 postseason loss to the Giants in 1986.

Charlie Garner was the breakout star for the Eagles, running for 111 yards on 16 carries that included two touchdowns and also catching the one pass for 28 more yards before leaving the game in the third quarter with a back injury. Randall Cunningham completed 20 of 29 passes for 246 yards and two TDs with no interceptions. Calvin Williams (pictured below) had 9 pass receptions for 122 yards.

For the Niners, the normally-proficient Steve Young was successful on just 11 of 23 throws for 99 yards with no touchdowns and two intercepted. Ricky Watters was the leading ground-gainer with a mere 22 yards on 7 carries. Jerry Rice caught 6 passes for 66 yards.

“I probably should have changed earlier,” said Coach Seifert regarding his decision to pull Young in the third quarter. “When he took that shot in the shoulder, I said the hell with it, I’m not leaving him in. We have a lot of football left.”

There was indeed a lot of football left and things got much better for Steve Young and the 49ers. After the big loss to Philadelphia, they reeled off 10 straight wins on the way to a 13-3 record and third straight NFC West title. They made it to the Super Bowl, handily defeating the San Diego Chargers. Young led the NFL in passing for the fourth consecutive season (112.8) while also receiving consensus MVP honors.

As for the Eagles, they advanced to 7-2 before the bottom fell out and they didn’t win again, ending up at 7-9 and fourth in the NFC East. By the end, Randall Cunningham had been benched and Byron Evans was out with a broken leg, which had a major impact on the defense. Rich Kotite’s coaching tenure came to an end after the season.

Charlie Garner had a second hundred-yard rushing performance the week after his spectacular debut against the 49ers, making him the seventh rookie in NFL history (and first Eagle) to do so in his first two games. He was worn down by further injuries, however, and ended up with 399 yards on 109 carries (3.7 avg.). Garner would go on to create an effective tandem with Ricky Watters, who came to Philadelphia as a free agent in 1995, and later played for the 49ers (as well as Oakland and Tampa Bay), where he gained selection to the Pro Bowl in 2000.