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Eli Manning and the New York Giants came up just a bit short of being able to pull off another marvelous comeback against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. Despite the Giants best efforts, their hope to pull off back-to-back thrilling, last minute, come-from-behind wins, were batted down (literally) by San Francisco’s Justin Smith, on a crucial fourth-and-2 from the 49ers’ 10 yard line, essentially wrapping up a 27-20 victory for the 49ers. Smith’s clutch play came with 34 seconds left in the game, after Manning and the Giants marched down the field completing not one, but two, earlier fourth-down and long conversions, that kept the drive – and the chance to tie – alive.
San Francisco was up 9-6 at halftime, after a first-half that resulted in zero touchdowns scored for both teams. Both offenses moved the ball well through the passing game, but were only able to produce points on field goals, faltering in, or near, red zone efficiency.
In the second half, the 49ers got another field goal to go up 12-6 but Giants struck back when Manning connected with Mario Manningham for a touchdown late in the third quarter, putting New York ahead 13-12 late in the third quarter.
San Francisco then retaliated to open the fourth, when Alex Smith connected with a wide-open Vernon Davis, who was inexcusably uncovered, and was able to run down the left sideline and leap into the end-zone eluding Kenny Phillips for a touchdown. A successful two-point conversion followed to put the Niners ahead 20-13.
The next drive, Manning was picked for a second time by Carlos Rogers, and in Giants territory, which set up the very next play, a 27-yard touchdown scamper by Kendall Hunter, on the Niners ‘ first, and only, play of that drive. The interception was a result of either a miscommunication Manning had with Manningham, or a poor effort by the receiver, who stopped running his post route just as Manning released the throw allowing Rogers to make a relatively diving catch for the pick.
With the 49ers atop 27-13, the Giants’ hopes hinged on Manning, who would have to continue his recent fourth quarter mastery. Phase one of the comeback was complete when Manning and Hakeem Nicks hooked up for a 32-yard score to pull back within seven with 8:37 remaining in the game.
But, Eli’s magic bag of tricks was emptied as the Giants final drive couldn’t result in a third successful fourth-down conversion. The Giants leave San Francisco, “very disappointed” as Coach Tom Coughlin described in his post-game press conference.
“I thought we were in perfect control. I thought we would get there, score and send it into overtime and win it in overtime. We’ve done well in those situations and I expected to do well again,” he added.
The impressive 49ers (8-1) now have themselves a five-game cushion atop the NFC West. Even more impressive, was how they went about winning this one without relying on star running back Frank Gore, whose franchise-record streak of five straight games with 100 yards rushing ended with a knee injury and his first career game with zero yards (on six first half carries). Just as his team did, Alex Smith showed how much he’s improved, as he was relied on to do much more dropping back than usual without Gore and an effective running game.
Coach Jim Harbaugh’s squad rolled off their seventh straight victory to extend their best start since 1997. San Francisco also leads New Orleans (7-3) for playoff positioning, only behind Green Bay (8-0), who hosts Minnesota (2-6)for Monday Night Football.
Though still atop their division at 6-3, the Giants come home to face Philadelphia next week, as the schedule only continues to look meaner. Meanwhile, within the division; the Eagles (3-6) lost to Arizona (3-6) at home, as their hellish season continues. In Dallas the Cowboys (5-4) walloped the not-so-surging-anymore Buffalo Bills, and now sit just 1 game behind the Giants in the NFC East.
D.J. Ware faired well in an increased role and saw the majority of second-half playing time at running back. Maybe that was because the Giants were running their offense in an abundance of shotgun sets, but perhaps it was because Brandon Jacobs was relatively ineffective being used as the featured back.
If Ray Lewis is no longer the hands-down best linebacker in football (and I’m not sure if I’m ready to say he isn’t) – Patrick Willis proved (to me, at least) he is. Then again, I also don’t consider Demarcus Ware, James Harrison, Clay Matthews and Mario Williams true linebackers, (they are D-Ends playing linebacker in 3-4 schemes, let’s not kid ourselves). But wow, Willis was explosive as explosive gets from the middle linebacker position. No disrespect to Brian Urlacher, either, who will go down in history as an elite middle linebacker himself.
Nicks (hamstring) and Manningham (knee) both started and played their usual significant roles in the offense. Neither seemed to be restricted by their injuries and should be fine going forward into Week 11.
Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) was sidelined for a second straight week and his status for Week 11 will likely be determined later in the week. The Giants are hoping for him to be back (as all fans are), but they can’t afford to rush him back too soon and risk further injury. Bradshaw has played through broken bones in his foot before, but if he plays, there is always a risk the injury can worsen before it fully heals. There is also no telling of how effective he can be, and prior to the injury, he hadn’t been providing consistent results for the run game.
In the loss, both Michael Boley (hamstring) and Aaron Ross (quad) were sidelined and did not return to play. Their injuries are likely to be day-by-day as the week unfolds. Interestingly, undrafted rookie Spencer Paysinger took over for Boley at weak-side linebacker, not fellow rookie Jacquian Williams, who saw a lot of playing time in the first handful of games and not much at all since. Boley’s absence was noted on a couple big gains San Francisco had. Michael Coe and Derrick Martin shared time filling in for Ross at cornerback. Martin had a nightmarish game on Special Teams (three penalties), perhaps jeopardizing his job security.
First-Round Draft Pick Prince Amukamara (foot) was inactive once again this week as he continues to move at a snails pace recovering from a broken foot. Rookie Jernel Jernigan was inactive (hip) but figures to be a candidate for kick returns, once healthy, now that Devin Thomas was removed from the that role. Rookie Da’Rel Scott produced mixed results in his audition against the Niners. Beating the rookie injury news to a pulp, Henry Hynoski (neck) was inactive, despite being listed as probable heading into Sunday. It is possible the ‘Hynoserous’ (wittily dubbed by Jon Gruden) was a healthy scratch, as Bear Pascoe may have officially taken his place as fullback.