By Paul Dottino
» More Columns
Maybe every NFL coach would take it if you told them they’d been in a position to win the game in the fourth quarter every week. But that’s a dangerous way to live in this parity-driven league and he’s sure to suffer some painful defeats along the way – as Tom Coughlin and his Giants did in dropping a 27-20 thriller in San Francisco.
If you look at this game up close, the Giants made more mistakes than the Niners – which is exactly how San Francisco wanted it as they improved to 8-1 – and they weren’t able to overcome those errors. Injuries to defensive signal caller Michael Boley and, to a degree, starting cornerback Aaron Ross clearly did not help the situation. And yet the Giants’ fate came down to NT Justin Smith batting away a fourth-down pass at the Niners 10 with 34 seconds left in the game.
Wow. Eli Manning nearly pulled off another comeback victory. He finished 26-of-40 for 311 yards with two TDs and two INTs. Yes, he made some spectacular throws, but he also made more poor throws in this game than he has in any game since the opening day loss in Washington.
If you look at the big picture, the Giants (6-3) only lead the Cowboys (5-4) by one game in the NFC East and they’ve still got to play them twice. The loss also allowed the Niners to create two games of separation (plus a tiebreaker over the Giants) as they sit in the NFC’s No. 2 slot behind the undefeated Packers (8-0).
So let’s get to our weekly review:
Offense – WR Mario Manningham. It looked bleak for him to play after he arrived for the trip with a swollen knee, prompting the team to list him as questionable as it boarded the plane to California. But after treatment during the flight, he was able to do a few things during warm-ups and was able to play. He was targeted 10 times and caught six passes for 77 yards, including a key 13-yard TD. On the play, he stretched out in the right corner of the end zone and dragged his feet to allow the Giants to take a 13-12 lead with 2:25 left in the third quarter. We will not take anything away from him for his failed attempt at snaring a slightly overthrown post that would have gone for a 42-yard TD with less than three minutes to play.
Defense –CB Corey Webster. Webster had a critical interception of a Ted Ginn Jr. deflection at the Giants 16 with 34 seconds left in the first half, allowing the Giants to go into the locker room down, 9-6. The turnover came four snaps after the Niners grabbed the momentum on Carlos Rogers’ interception at the Giants 43. The 49ers did not complete a pass against Webster in the second half – they threw three straight incompletions his way on first-and-goal from the 10 to cap their opening drive of the third quarter.
Special teams –PK Lawrence Tynes. His strong kickoffs – the weakest went to the goal line with almost nine minutes to play – limited Ginn to two returns for a total of 55 yards. And Tynes was perfect on his two field goals and two extra points.
Offense – Offensive line. Although Manning was sacked just once, he often found pressure coming from the front of the pocket – which is the spot that makes him feel the most uncomfortable. When the Niners blitzed, they usually sent their defenders through the interior and they did some stunting to cause trouble. How much of this pressure caused Manning to make bad throws on two Carlos Rogers interceptions (and what would have been a third to Dashon Goldson had he not been out of bounds)? It’s hard to tell, but Manning was not as consistently sharp as he has been for most of the season. It would be easy to be critical of the running game (93 yards on 29 tries), but the Niners came in with the top rushing defense in the league.
Defense – LB Greg Jones. The rookie middle linebacker had to take over the defensive calls after Michael Boley went out because of a hamstring injury with almost a minute left in the first half. During the second half, it appeared the Giants had trouble either with their communication or lining up in the correct spots. Jones, himself, took the blame for the busted coverage on Vernon Davis’ 31-yard TD catch that put the Niners ahead, 20-14, with 13:22 to play. Jones also got sealed on Kendall Hunter’s decisive 17-yard TD dash around the left side with 12:21 left.
Special teams –P Steve Weatherford and LB Spencer Paysinger. These two have to do some laps together. Sorry, fellas. Weatherford may have saved his worst punt of the season for a really bad time. In an effort to prevent Ginn from returning the ball, he shanked a 29-yarder into the Giants’ bench to give the Niners the ball at the 50 with 21 seconds left in the third quarter. San Francisco took advantage of the short field and scored a touchdown four plays later. Paysinger was on the front line and started backwards on David Akers’ second-quarter onside kick (remember how Akers burned the Giants with one in the Philadelphia game last season), which made it easier for Delanie Walker to recover the ball. The bonus possession turned into a field goal as the Niners went up, 9-6.