SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Eli Manning lofted a pass to Mario Manningham as he was running toward the end zone.
The wide receiver reached out for the ball just beyond his grasp, and the potential tying touchdown slipped through his fingertips.
Just like the rest of the day for the Giants: incomplete.
Moments after Manning and Manningham couldn’t connect for the score, Justin Smith batted down a pass near the end zone in the closing seconds to seal New York’s 27-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
“It’s one of those you’re going to look at film and hate yourself for it,” said Manning, who threw two touchdown passes and two interceptions. “He was so open.”
Manning and the Giants came up short in this attempt at another fourth-quarter comeback.
With his team trailing, Manning completed a pair of long fourth-down passes and got the Giants in scoring position with 1:53 remaining. Unlike last week’s rally by New York (6-3) at New England, Smith thwarted the final chance with a leaping right-handed smack of the ball on fourth-and-2 from the 10.
“Too little. Too late. Not enough. Whatever you want to describe it as,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “They’re a good team. They’re a solid team. They don’t give you much.”
The 49ers (8-1) won 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. San Francisco had 77 yards rushing.
Jim Harbaugh’s NFC West-leading Niners rolled off their seventh straight victory to extend their best start since 1997, and matched the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers for the most wins in the NFL.
“You’re as good as your record, and you’re as good as your last game,” 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. “And we beat a really good football team.”
The first half featured seven possessions, five field goals and no punts. A sizzling half for the kickers — with San Francisco leading 9-6 — turned into an offensive shootout late.
Vernon Davis leaped from the 4-yard line over safety Kenny Phillips into the end zone to complete a 31-yard touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter that put the 49ers ahead 20-13 after a 2-point conversion.
Carlos Rogers followed with his second interception of the day. On the next play, Kendall Hunter sprinted for a 27-yard touchdown in the fourth to put San Francisco ahead by two touchdowns.
David Akers kicked four field goals, setting up one with a surprise onside kick, as the 49ers won their most meaningful home game at Candlestick Park since coming from 24 points down to stun the Giants 39-38 in the NFC wild-card game on Jan. 5, 2003.
That was one of the best comebacks in NFL playoff history and a monumental collapse for the Giants.
Alex Smith led the comeback this time after Manning threw a go-ahead 13-yard touchdown pass to Manningham late in the third quarter. Manning then hit Hakeem Nicks for a 32-yard TD with 8:37 remaining before getting that last chance.
Manning completed an 18-yard pass to Manningham on fourth-and-6 and then a 10-yarder to Victor Cruz on fourth-and-5 on the last-ditch drive. Then he just overthrew Manningham running wide open toward the end zone with 2:52 left.
“I should have laid out,” Manningham said. “Should have came down with it.”
While it’s the 49ers defense that has been so dominant stopping the run — now 31 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher — the Giants had to think they had solved San Francisco by stopping Gore.
But Smith completed at least three passes to four different receivers, including tight end Delanie Walker’s six receptions for 69 yards.
Gore, the two-time Pro Bowler, already was nursing a tender right ankle that has bothered him on several occasions this season before hurting his knee Sunday and watching much of the second half in a red jacket on the sideline.
Gore has 7,196 yards rushing and needs 149 more to pass late Hall of Famer Joe Perry (7,344) for the most in franchise history.
Manning finished 26 for 40 for 311 yards with two TDs and two interceptions. But he and the Giants couldn’t overcome a slow start.
“I’m very disappointed,” Coughlin said. “We’ve done well in those situations and I expected to do well again. Didn’t happen, and you can call it percentages or whatever you want, but we’re prepared to excel in that area and we’ve done just that.”
Notes: Giants LB Michael Boley didn’t play in the second half because of a hamstring injury. He will be revaluated Monday. … Giants CB Aaron Ross had a bruised quadriceps. His status is unclear.