By Curt Macysyn
The New York Giants (3-7) are simply unpredictable. Unfortunately, the G-men’s unpredictability cannot be embraced or celebrated as a good thing. To the contrary, this team cannot put together a solid 60 minutes of football, and the offense and defense often take turns disappointing Giants’ fans. This week, the San Francisco 49ers (6-4) came to MetLife Stadium looking to bolster their playoff resume and extinguish the Giants’ faint playoff hopes.
The 2013 version of quarterback Eli Manning reappeared, as he threw a career-high five interceptions on Sunday afternoon, after throwing only six in the preceding nine games. The interceptions snuffed out several scoring drives and negated a game defensive effort by Big Blue.
TEAM OFFENSE: F
It is easy to pinpoint this loss exclusively on Eli Manning, whose five interceptions certainly was the major story. On the other hand, the Giants’ could only muster a measly 65 yards on the ground, with Rashad Jennings picking up 59 yards on 18 carries for a 3.3 yards per carry average. In addition, when right tackle Justin Pugh went out of the game with a quad injury, New York had to insert reserve Charles Brown, and the result was not good. Just off of suspension, Aldon Smith could not be contained in the pass rush, and he was in Manning’s hip pocket all afternoon. Ironically, he did not get credited with a sack, but certainly was a factor.
Ray McDonald and rookie Aaron Lynch both were credited with a sack of Manning on the afternoon. It is also worth noting that the 49ers did not miss Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis because rookie Chris Borland was all over the field, a testament to San Francisco’s depth that New York could only wish it had. Borland had two interceptions and 12 tackles on the afternoon. For those who are unfamiliar with him, Borland was taken in the third round from the University of Wisconsin, three picks after the Giants selected defensive tackle Jay Bromley. Borland has become a contender for rookie-of-the year, while Bromley does not even see the field for a club with a 3-7 record.
Another testament to the 49ers depth is the fact that the five interceptions came when the team was missing cornerback Tramaine Brock and safety Jimmie Ward in the secondary, and Willis, Dan Skuta and Novarro Bowman at linebacker. Bowman has not played all year after tearing up his knee last season.
On the afternoon, Manning went 22-45 for 280 passing yards, and a putrid 36.6 quarterback rating. Rueben Randle showed up at times to haul in seven passes for a career-high 112 yards, as Manning looked his way consistently for 12 targets. Of course, Randle gave up on several routes when the coverage got too close for comfort, and he also becomes invisible when a pass that is thrown his way gets intercepted.
Odell Beckham had a subpar game, with a couple drops, but he also had spectacular grab along the right sideline that set the offense up for the go ahead score with four minutes remaining. Beckham has a high compete level, and he is fun to watch. Inexplicably, offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo called for three straight fade patterns that the 49ers were comfortable covering one-on-one, after Beckham’s effort, all of which were incomplete and led to the four down and goal from the four yard line. Borland intercepted his second pass of the day on a deflection and San Francisco could taste victory.
The Giants scored a TD on their first possession, a 19-yard catch by tight end Larry Donnell, but could only muster one field goal the rest of the way. Perhaps Tom Coughlin might take a page out of Bill Parcell’s book and kick field goals when the opportunity arises. The first possession touchdown broke a 20-game streak of futility for the G-men, who had not scored an opening drive touchdown since Oct. 6, 2013 against the Philadelphia Eagles.
TEAM DEFENSE: B
The defensive effort and execution were much better this week, but unfortunately it did not lead to a victory. But do not be fooled into thinking the defensive problems are over. Frank Gore rushed for 95 yards and averaged 5.0 yards per carry. There was also a blown coverage in the secondary again that allowed wide receiver Michael Crabtree to get free on a 48-yard catch and carry touchdown in the third quarter. Safety Quintin Demps took a bad angle that allowed Crabtree to break free down the middle of the field, an area that gets exploited every week for a big play or two.
There were some bright spots that may give hope to Giants’ fans down the stretch. Rookie linebacker Devon Kennard had nine tackles, and he shows a high energy level and ability to shed blockers. He also is a sure tackler, which is a rarity on the unit. Mark Herzlich, subbing for the injured Jacquian Williams, had nine tackles on the afternoon in what may have been his best game as a professional.
Robert Ayers had the lone quarterback sack for Big Blue, but he also showed that he may be the only defensive lineman who puts any pressure on the quarterback. Linebacker Jameel McClain made 14 tackles for the G-men to lead the defensive effort. San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick completed 52 percent of his passes, and he only ran for 24 yards on the ground.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
Kicker Josh Brown executed an onside kick by ripping the ball out from the 49ers’ Bubba Ventrone, which was recovered by Mark Herzlich, giving the Giants’ good field position in the third quarter. Nothing came of it, as Manning threw his third interception of the day shortly thereafter. Brown hit a 43-yard field just prior to the onside kick, so he remained a perfect 10-for-10 on the year.
Steve Weatherford punted only three times for a 43.0 yard average. Preston Parker had 129 return yards for Big Blue, including a nifty 38-yard return. Odell Beckham was used as a punt returner with three returns for 39.0 yards, including a nice 25-yard return. Beckham goes north – south on the punt returns and has the speed to turn the corner, the only question is whether or not he is too valuable to risk injury in the return game. The 49ers’ punter Andy Reed was a real difference-maker in the contest, averaging 46.8 yards per punt on four punts, with three inside the 20.
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Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past two seasons for Examiner.com. Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Curt has followed and covered the New York Metropolitan sports scene for 35 years. He attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, NJ and is a graduate of Rutgers University, New Brunswick. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.