Inside Slant, Notes, Quotes, Report Cards

Not so slowly, Giants' quarterback Eli Manning is reaching new and higher stops on the way to what appears to be shaping up as a star-studded career. He won his first road game Sunday in San Francisco. He is now 6-2 for the season, his first as a starter, and he is only in his second season overall.

He was the NFL's first overall draft pick last year and was subsequently traded to the Giants on draft day when the Chargers became convinced he meant what he said about not wanting to play in San Diego.

He cost the Giants a king's ransom, in NFL currency, and the fans were outraged. Now it seems he is going to be remembered as a massive bargain, perhaps rivaling the purchase of Manhattan from the Indians for $24 worth of costume jewelry.

"This was the first road game win of my career, and the first for our team this season," he said after the 24-6 trouncing of the 49ers. "So this was an important one. It was big. We struggled early, penalties killed us and put us in two third-and-long situations, and you can't convert those against a good team like the 49ers. But regardless, I would have liked to be more consistent today."

Consistency is defined in several ways. Perhaps a quarterback who took a team from which nothing much was expected and turned it into a 6-2 record (with one of the losses a 16-13 overtime defeat) is consistency enough for most people. But apparently Eli, like his brother, would rather be flawless, and it is his brother, Peyton, against whom he is being compared more and more often these days.

"You know, he makes all those motions with his arms while calling signals," says defensive end Michael Strahan, a smile on his face. "It looks just like what Peyton does. He is getting to even play the game the same way. I guess that Manning Quarterback Camp (run by Eli, Peyton and their father, Archie) is paying off."

Someone asked Strahan if all the hand signals and the waving of the arms is mostly decoy, planned confusion. He just smiled. "Ask Peyton," he said.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Giants have not allowed a touchdown in nine quarters, not since the third quarter of their 24-23 victory against Denver three weeks ago. "We are playing smarter defense," said MLB Antonio Pierce, still visibly upset when the Giants' game with San Diego (a 45-24 throttling) is mentioned. "I would love to do that one over again," he said.

--The Giants now return home to face the Minnesota Vikings, the first of back-to-back home games. The second will be against arch-rival Philadelphia in an NFC East showdown. "We will not allow ourselves to even think about any other game," says FS Brent Alexander. "The next game on our schedule is the only important one."

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--SS Shaun Williams played into the second quarter (as a reserve) and then had to leave with a re-pulled hamstring. He had missed three games with the same injury and now appears to be looking at another enforced layoff.

--WLB Nick Greisen left in the third quarter with bruised ribs but returned in the fourth quarter. He finished with two tackles plus a special teams tackle and has claimed the job for his own with the placement of Barrett Green on injured reserve.

--SLB Carlos Emmons missed his second straight game with a partially torn right pectoral muscle. He was replaced -- again -- by Reggie Torbor, who had seven tackles (co-leader with Pierce) and a pair of special teams tackles.

--Both WR Plaxico Burress and TE Jeremy Shockey made circus catches of Eli Manning passes. Burress reached over 49er CB Bruce Thornton for a 50-yard completion to the S.F. 12, and five plays later, early in the fourth quarter, rookie RB Brandon Jacobs scored the first of his two 1-yard TDs. Shockey's was a diving, tumbling catch at the end of the second quarter that resulted in a 32-yard TD, a play that had to survive a challenge registered by S.F. head coach Mike Nolan.

--RB Brandon Jacobs now has five TDs in just 26 carries, as the 6-4, 265-pound rookie is obviously becoming the third-and-short specialist. "Whatever they want me to do, I'll do," he said, when asked if he wanted more game time carries.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD VS. 49ERS

PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Eli Manning had a second "average" game, but managed to come up with crucial plays and win. He completed 18 of 33 passes for 251 yards and one TD, and his long gains have become remarkable. He threw for 50 yards to WR Plaxico Burress, 32 yards (and a TD) to TE Jeremy Shockey, 23 yards to WR Amani Toomer and 19 yards to RB Tiki Barber. He was neither intercepted nor sacked. Burress is playing at near-Pro Bowl levels (45-656-5 TDs) and Shockey may have already locked up a Pro Bowl berth. His four catches Sunday (for 77 yards) gave him 215 in his 31/2-year career, 16th on the team's all-time list. The O-line played especially well, although C Shaun O'Hara still appears to be having trouble (two holding penalties). RT Kareem McKenzie has become the anchor for the line; another wise free agent pickup this year.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus -- The 49ers' defense focused on stopping RB Tiki Barber and, to a large extent, they did. He gained just 71 yards on 21 carries, but served to break the pattern of too many passes, which was the intent of offensive coordinator John Hufnagel. The O-line held off the charging 49er defense, which seemed to be designed to create confusion rather than show a normal look. Several times S.F. had eight men in the box, which is when the running game slowed, but the passing attack became more possible. FB Jim Finn, who left briefly with an injury, was at his blocking best.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- This was the first start of the season for young Cody Pickett and despite a courageous effort, he wasn't up to the task. His inexperience showed, thought not as obviously as was expected, and he drew praise from the Giants' defense for his poise under fire. He completed 12 of 21 passing attempts for 102 yards and was sacked three times, a figure that could have been much higher but for his ability to get out of the way at the last second. The Giants showed him different formations and coverages, and as a result, the bulk of his completions went to RB Kevan Barlow (six for 41 yards). WR Brandon Lloyd made a circus catch of 50 yards but it was wiped out by a holding call on RT Kwame Harris.

RUSH DEFENSE: A-minus -- This was the fourth game in which the opponent gained 55 yards or less vs. the Giants, and they have won all four. Barlow was the most adversely affected by the suffocating plan, carrying 10 times for a paltry four net yards. Rookie Frank Gore had seven carries for 33 yards, most of it wrapped up in one 22-yard gain. MLB Antonio Pierce and SLB Reggie Torbor led the Giants with seven tackles each -- all of them on running plays. DE Michael Strahan added five. Seven of the 49ers' 11 possessions ended with three plays and a punt.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- P Jeff Feagles kicked five times for a 45.8 average (39.8 net) and with his next punt will make him the first punter in the history of the NFL to have 1,400. The Giants returned three kickoffs for 81 yards, six punts for 35 yards and K Jay Feely added another FG, his 17th in 18 tries. Coverage was strong as the 49ers averaged 10 yards on three punt returns and 20.6 on five KO returns. The Giants accounted for seven special teams tackles, two each by SLB Reggie Torbor and newly-signed WLB Alonzo Jackson.

COACHING: B -- The offensive plan was to keep everything in balance, not to allow the run or the pass to become too prominent. And that was precisely what was accomplished, as the Giants threw the ball 33 times and ran it 32. The defense attempted to show new, young QB Cody Pickett looks and coverages he hadn't yet seen, and the 49ers, seeing that he was becoming confused, ran a "flip" offense in which right was left and left was right, everything becoming misdirection. It worked, but only slightly, as the Giants' defense adjusted quickly.

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