49ers/Giants: Thumbs up and thumbs down
Thumbs up: As Niners offensive coordinator Greg Roman said after the game, "I guess it's out of the bag now." And that would be, that the 49ers can win a game and control a game by passing the football. What a concept. Knowing that New York would gear its defense in hell-bent fashion to stop a running game that had carried the San Francisco offense, the 49ers built their entire game plan around passing the ball. It was brilliant. And it worked.
Thumbs up: And when you build a game plan around passing, that means your quarterback better be up to the task and deliver the goods. Alex Smith delivered the goods Sunday, avoiding pressure and peppering the New York defense with well-placed passes, then carrying the offense after Frank Gore became a nonfactor in the first half and barely played in the second.
Thumbs down: And that's about the biggest downer in this uplifting victory, that Gore didn't take much of a part in it. Already battling an ankle injury, the two-time Pro Bowler was knocked out be a knee injury in the first half and didn't touch the football on the two second-half snaps he was on the field. Entering the game fifth among the NFL's leading rushers, Gore finished with zero yards rushing on six carries, and it bears watching that he might be breaking down under a heavy workload that at midseason had him on course for a career high in carries.
Thumbs up: But the silver lining around that was the 49ers barely missed Gore, and they won by a touchdown without him in their biggest game of the season. They barely missed Gore because elusive and explosive rookie Kendall Hunter stepped in to give the offense a ground boost in the second half, when he scooted for 40 yards rushing on six carries, including a 17-yard lightning bolt to the end zone that put the 49ers in command at 27-13 early in the fourth quarter.
Thumbs up: Speaking of lightning bolts… Vernon Davis brought down the hammer from the sky on Giants safety Kenny Phillips as Davis vaulted from the 4-yard line and crashed into Phillips as he was falling into the end zone. That athletic surge completed a 31-yard catch-and-run for the go-ahead touchdown 59 seconds before Hunter's score. Maybe we should just call Davis lighting in a bottle. The guy simply needs to touch the football more often.
Thumbs up: And to illustrate what a special talent he is, Davis had a choice of how he would get into the end zone as he changed gears in the open field and steamrolled toward the goal line. "I was actually trying to decide what I wanted to do, whether I wanted to run him over or dive to get in the end zone," Davis said. "I just wanted to go with the best way to get into the end zone, so I decided to jump." And jump Davis did, flying forward at least five yards through the air.
Thumbs up: We haven't seen a crowd like that at Candlestick Park in almost a decade, and we've seen them all during that 21st century. Almost every seat was filled in the old concrete bowl, and there was a lot of red everywhere, and that stadium got really, really loud, harkening back to the days of constant winning. And when the Giants were driving down the field in the final minutes to try to force overtime, that crowd became a factor and had the ‘Stick absolutely rocking with noise.
Thumbs up: And what that crowd saw was Smith getting the best of Eli Manning, one of the NFL's better quarterbacks who was in top form Sunday. So what does that make Smith now?
Thumbs down: The Giants went after rookie nickel back Chris Culliver throughout the afternoon, and they got him several times, including on a touchdown pass that put New York ahead going into the fourth quarter. Culliver also was beaten by Mario Manningham in the final minutes for what could have been a 42-yard touchdown pass that would have tied the score, but Manningham – who was two steps behind Culliver – couldn't hang onto a Manning pass that was placed on his fingertips near the goal line.
Thumbs up: Carlos Rogers had the first two-interception game of his seven-year career, and according to what he told NinersDigest afterward, the first two-pick game of his entire life. And the Niners needed both of them, particularly the second which set up what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
Thumbs up: Running on empty after giving every ounce of himself for three hours in the trenches, defensive end Justin Smith had enough left in the tank to make another game-saving defensive play as Manning and Co. were knocking on the door of overtime in the final minute. But Smith made sure that door remained slammed shut, knocking down Manning's fourth-down pass from the 10-yard line to clinch the victory.
Thumbs down: Manning was in top form, and while the San Francisco defense did a good job of bending and bending but not breaking, the Niners still allowed 311 yards passing as the Giants rolled up 395 yards of total offense. That's by far the most yards allowed by the 49ers in each category since their Week 4 win at Philadelphia.
Thumbs up: It's Groundhog Day every Sunday for middle linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, who just keep on stacking the same dominant performances on top of dominant performances every week. The dynamic duo once again was terrific in the middle of everything the 49ers were doing defensively, combining for 25 tackles – three for losses – with 14 coming from Bowman, who even found time to add another tackle on special teams. The guy is just all over the place.
Thumbs up: Last week at Washington, Willis had 13 tackles, forced two fumbles and excelled in pass coverage. Against the Giants, to go with his 11 tackles Willis had a sack and one QB hit as he caused New York fits with a series of inside blitzes. The guy can do it all, and his repertoire is endless.
Thumbs down: That's about as quiet a game as we've seen from the 49ers' top edge rushers Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith. The pair of outside linebackers had a combined 11.5 sacks and 38 quarterback hits entering the game, but they barely got any heat on Manning, combining for just one QB hit in the game. The 49ers need better from the edge when they face top-shelf quarterbacks.
Thumbs up: Is there a better kicker and a more lethal leg in the NFL today than David Akers? Akers was his usual magnificent self, splitting the uprights on all four of his field-goal attempts, including another low-riding missile from 52 yards, making him 5 of 5 from 50 yards or beyond this season, extending his own franchise record. Akers also put six kickoffs into the end zone and had four touchbacks. He's making about as big an impact on 49ers games as a kicker can make.
Thumbs up: And how about Akers' perfectly-executed onside kick, a perfect high one-hopper that became a can of corn for Delanie Walker to catch in the air. That came on the kickoff following Akers' 52-yard field goal and led to Akers' 39-yarder three minutes later that gave the 49ers their first lead of the game.
Thumbs up: You didn't think that was going to be the only time Walker's name would be mentioned here, did you? The sixth-year tight end got open all day underneath coverage, tying his career high with a team-high six receptions for 69 yards and becoming a go-to guy in a passing game that saw eight players finish with at least one catch.
Thumbs down: If the 49ers are going to blitz free safety Dashon Goldson and roll Reggie Smith in deep coverage, then Smith has to do a better job getting over and take better angles than he did while arriving way too late to help cornerback Tarell Brown on Hakeem Nicks' 32-yard touchdown catch that made it a one-score game again midway through the final quarter.
Thumbs down: Ted Ginn Jr. deserves his spot in the rotation at wide receiver, but he needs to do a better job looking the ball into his hands, because sometimes when it slips through them, disaster can result. Alex Smith hit Ginn in the hands late in the second quarter with the Niners at the New York 24-yard line, but the ball glanced off Ginn and landed in the hands of cornerback Corey Webster for an interception Smith didn't deserve that deprived the Niners of momentum and a prime scoring opportunity to pad their halftime lead.
Thumbs up: It's getting repetitive, but Andy Lee had a net average of 50.7 yards on his three punts. That's sensational. Oh, and he finished the day with a 54.7 gross average.
Thumbs up: The Giants made four trips into the red zone. They got just one touchdown out of those visits, and then were blanked on their final trip at the end of the game. The Niners' tough defense continues to rise to the occasion in the red zone, and that was particularly important early in the game when New York had an opportunity to take command but had to settle for field goals after driving to the San Francisco 5- and 7-yard lines on its first two offensive possessions.
Thumbs up: The record is up to 8-1 and the winning streak is now at seven, but this was the victory that legitimizes the 49ers as a serious contender again after eight sorry seasons without a winning record or playoff berth. With the way this team is playing and reeling off big wins, it almost seems worth the wait.
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