Punchless 49ers can't stand up to Giants

Receiver Johnnie Morton was talking afterward about "high school" offense. Tackle Kwame Harris was grumbling about making "Pop Warner" mistakes. And the 49ers as a whole were muttering to themselves about yet another regressive offensive performance that again laid to waste another fine performance by a defense that just couldn't get it done all by itself Sunday afternoon against the New York Giants.

Try as it might, that defense could carry the 49ers only so long against the NFL's highest-scoring team. It had San Francisco within four points entering the fourth quarter, but ultimately wore down as New York tacked on two touchdowns in the final period to stroll out of Monster Park with a 24-6 victory that wasn't as easy as that score might indicate.

Except for the part where the New York defense was stuffing the San Francisco offense. Now, that was easy.

The 49ers, with second-year quarterback Cody Pickett making his first NFL start, produced a season-low 138 yards of offense, failing to score an offensive touchdown for the second consecutive week and fifth time in eight games this season. The Niners needed long field goals of 48 and 52 yards by Joe Nedney to prevent a shutout, and Nedney provided all of San Francisco's points for the second straight game and fourth time this season.

"It's really embarrassing," said Morton, the 12th-year receiver whose 24-yard reception late in the second quarter was San Francisco's longest offensive play of the game and also gave the 49ers their first first down with 25 minutes already elapsed in the contest.

"It's very frustrating," Morton continued. "We should be scoring a lot more. This is professional football, not high school. Even in high school, they score more points than this. I don't know what we need to do, but we need to get in the end zone. It's not like we need to score one touchdown and celebrate. We need to score a lot of touchdowns, because the defense is keeping us in games and we're not holding up our end of the bargain."

The Niners would have settled for one touchdown Sunday, because it would have been enough to keep them in the game until the very end.

But they never came close. San Francisco's best penetration of the day against the NFL's 30th-ranked defense was the New York 30-yard line. And even when the 49ers got there, they totally botched their best opportunity to take command of the game.

Trailing just 3-0, the San Francisco offense finally got moving after its first four possessions each went three-and-out. Pickett found Morton on a third-and-9 play, and the QB scrambled for four yards on 4th-and-2 to keep the drive moving. After the Niners reached the 30 at the two-minute warning, Pickett launched a deep pass toward Brandon Lloyd, who made a fabulous, leaping, one-handed grab at the 2-yard line.

But wait. Left tackle Anthony Clement was called for holding on the play to bring the ball back.

On the next play, Clement was called for a false start. On the play after that, right tackle Kwame Harris was called for another false start.

"All those calls were a bunch of bull," said Clement, who was flagged for two holding penalties (one was declined) and a false start. "It got so frustrating for us, we started making some mental mistakes."

Said Harris, who was whistled for three false starts on the day: "It's self-inflicted wounds. Those are the kind of things you'd expect out of a Pop Warner player, not a NFL player. "

Those three penalties turned a close game in New York's favor.

All of a sudden, San Francisco had a third-and-33 situation at its own 47-yard line, and Pickett threw an interception on the play that was returned to the San Francisco 41. Four plays later, quarterback Eli Manning found tight end Jeremy Shockey behind the San Francisco secondary on a 4-and-1 play. Shockey made a diving reception at the 1 and rolled into the end zone to put the Giants ahead 10-0 at halftime.

"We hurt ourselves," said Pickett, who completed 12 of 21 passes for 102 yards and was sacked three times. "I learned that you can't try and force the ball like that. I shouldn't have made that throw and I just can't put us in that kind of situation. That was a 10-point swing right there."

And it was big, because the 49ers came out in the second half and closed within 10-6 entering the fourth quarter on Nedney's two field goals. But the San Francisco offense produced just one net yard in the fourth quarter, going three-and-out on each of its three possessions, and the Giants took advantage of good field position and a tiring San Francisco defense to assemble touchdown drives of 62 and 68 yards that put away the game.

"It was tough for us," New York coach Tom Coughlin said. "The 49ers played great defense and they played hard. But, fortunately, we were able to make some plays."

Playing tough most of the way and playing hard all the way was little consolation to a San Francisco defense that once again was left hanging by an ineffective offense.

"We came out and we played hard," 49ers linebacker Derek Smith said. "But we want to win. We don't want to just get a ribbon for playing hard. Wins are all that count, and we didn't get the win today. The Giants scored 24 points. We, as a defense, didn't do everything we could today, so there's no way we can point the finger at anybody else."

Oh, yes they can.

The San Francisco offense was at least able to complement a stellar defensive performance with a strong running game during last week's 15-10 upset of Tampa Bay. The 49ers rolled for 158 yards on the ground against the NFL's top-ranked run defense, but this time the could manage only 52 yards on 22 carries as the offense went nowhere. San Francisco had eight offensive series that produced seven yards or less and four that ended with negative yardage.

"We've got to get better at everything," Pickett said.

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