The old San Francisco 49ers routed teams with offense.
They did it Monday night with defense and special teams, beating Philadelphia 24-12 as Merton Hanks returned a fumble for a touchdown, Chuck Levy scored on a 73-yard punt return, and Curtis Buckley’s disputed hit and fumble recovery set up a third TD.
Dana Stubblefield had 3-1/2 of San Francisco’s eight sacks as the 49ers won their ninth straight game since an opening-week loss in Tampa.
That moved them to within a game of their sixth straight NFC West title and their 14th in 17 seasons. They can clinch it Sunday by beating visiting Carolina.
For Philadelphia (4-6), it was the first loss in five home games this season, and puts the Eagles in peril of missing the playoffs for the first time in Ray Rhodes’ three seasons as head coach.
Lee Woodall got things going early in the first quarter by stripping the ball from Ricky Watters. Hanks picked it up and took it untouched to the end zone.
Three-and-half minutes into the second quarter, the Niners’ Tommy Thompson punted to Philadelphia’s Freddie Solomon. He signaled for a fair catch, but just as the ball got to him Buckley came crashing in. The ball came loose, and Buckley fell on it at the Philadelphia 26.
The officials ruled that Solomon never had possession, making it a muff and making him fair game for Buckley.
Three plays later, following a 19-yard pass from Young to Terrell Owens, Garrison Hearst took the ball in from the 1, and it was 14-6.
Then Tommy Hutton punted to Levy - returning punts because Iheanyi Uweazuoke was out with a knee injury.
Levy took the ball, split two Philadelphia defenders, and sped untouched to the end zone for a 21-6 lead.