SAN FRANCISCO -- When Donovan McNabb trudged off the field after throwing an interception with the Eagles down by nine and just 15½ minutes to play, coach Andy Reid knew his quarterback would do the right thing.
They've been together in Philadelphia for 10 seasons and 76 victories, through postseason heights and losing lows. McNabb and Reid have survived far bigger calamities than one interception, or even the touchdown return on a blocked field goal that briefly enlivened the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
"He stayed upbeat. That's when leaders lead," Reid said. "When something negative happens, don't hang your head. Just let everybody know that it's not going to happen again, and we're going to score. That's how you approach it."
McNabb's approach worked for the 76th time -- although it definitely helped to have a dominant defense to cover for an injury-riddled offense in Philadelphia's 40-26 victory.
McNabb passed for 280 yards and two touchdowns without his top two receivers and his best running back, and the Eagles' aggressive defenders forced three turnovers during a 23-point fourth quarter. A few days after McNabb called a team meeting, the Eagles (3-3) avoided falling further out of the NFC East race with an overwhelming comeback to snap a two-game skid.
The defense did most of the second-half work, holding San Francisco to minus-2 yards in the fourth quarter, but McNabb ran the show while moving past Ron Jaworski on the Eagles' career list for yards passing and pass attempts.
"Anything I receive individually is a tribute not only to this team, [but] to the big guy that drafted me in '99," McNabb said. "[He] has that confidence in me to have me here for 10 years, and knowing that when the ball is in my hands, he feels good about things happening."
McNabb and Reid have won more games together than Bill Walsh and Joe Montana, but the Eagles' duo was in trouble at Candlestick Park after San Francisco's Donald Strickland returned a blocked field goal 41 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the first half.
Reid, whose curious ideas about game management have long bedeviled Eagles fans, decided to attempt a 54-yard field goal 1 second before halftime. Ray McDonald went unblocked through the line and swatted down the attempt by David Akers, who hasn't made a kick longer than 44 yards in his past 10 tries since Sept. 30, 2007.
Strickland easily returned it for a score to send San Francisco (2-4) into the locker room trailing just 17-16, and the 49ers then quickly drove 78 yards for Frank Gore's 6-yard TD run.
"It definitely carried through halftime with our momentum," Strickland said. "We came out and scored, but then they made plays and we didn't get off the field on third downs. We know we have the talent, we have the schemes. Everything is right on the cusp."
The 49ers nursed a 26-17 lead in the fourth quarter, but Philadelphia's defense added three sacks to its league-leading total while holding the Niners to just one offensive touchdown.
After Akers' 38-yard field goal put Philadelphia ahead with 7:46 to play, Quintin Mikell's interception return to the San Francisco 7 set up another short field goal. Trent Cole then swatted the ball out of quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan's hands, and Chris Clemons recovered to set up another field goal with 1:10 left.
San Francisco got past midfield with one last drive, but O'Sullivan threw a pass directly to Juqua Parker, who returned it 55 yards for a score with 38 seconds left in the Niners' third straight loss.
O'Sullivan passed for 199 yards for the 49ers, who fell to 1-3 at home in another mistake-filled performance that included 10 penalties. Joe Nedney kicked four field goals when the offense repeatedly stalled -- until the fourth quarter, when it completely fell apart.
"We've just got to finish," said Gore, who rushed for 101 yards -- but just 3 in the final quarter. "We got ahead, we kind of got comfortable, and the Eagles played great. They made great plays and turned their season around." Correll Buckhalter rushed for 93 yards and a touchdown while filling in for injured All-Pro Brian Westbrook. The Eagles also played without injured receivers Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown. DeSean Jackson, the electric Eagles rookie who starred at Cal across the Bay last fall, had six catches for 98 yards, while Hank Baskett and L.J. Smith caught TD passes.
Coach Mike Nolan attempted to challenge Akers' go-ahead field goal, thinking it missed. ... San Francisco LB Takeo Spikes, cut by the Eagles in March, made seven tackles and a key interception, his third in three games. ... The 49ers hadn't returned a blocked field goal for a score since 1989.