Diary of a Giants Fan: Giants Fall to 49ers – Grades
So many chances. So many missed opportunities. A game they should have won. A game they ultimately lost. This is Diary of a Giants Fan.
The Giants marched into San Francisco at a, let's be honest, surprising 6-2 record, and a, let's be honest, surprising leader of the NFC East. There's really not a lot more that I can say other than "...[expletive]," so let's just get into it.
The Giants opened the game in encouraging fashion. Jacobs was running well and Manning, who had his two top receivers back from injury, was spreading the ball around with ease. Eli quickly had his team in the red zone looking to score. Cruz was stopped on a third down however, and their first opportunity was missed. Lawrence Tynes would bang through the field goal to cap off an over seven minute drive. 3-0 Giants.
Frank Gore and the 49ers offense would then answer - surely by tough running, right? No? Alex Smith was passing his way to success? Unexpected, but I guess that makes sense. Yes, I was shocked to see the 49ers come out passing against this less than dominating Giants run defense, yet I was not at all surprised to see a medicore quarterback put it on the Gents (see Tarvaris Jackson/Charlie Witehurst, see Matt Moore). Alex Smith would negotiate his side into the red zone for a field goal. 3-3, and the battle of the kickers was on. Despite a successful onside kick by the 49ers, tough D in the red zone for both sides would lead to traded field goals by David Akers and Mr. Larry Tynes. Deep in the second quarter we were locked in the most interesting 6-9 battle I've ever seen. The imitation game wasn't limited to kickers, however, as - after the first truly inexcusable drop of the day by Victor Cruz - Eli Manning was picked off on his side of the field. Disaster? Should have been, but the 49ers steadfastly refused to capitalize. Alex Smith, not to be underdone by Manning, threw a pass off of Ted Gin's grill and into the unsteady, yet opportunistic, hands of Cory Webster. Lost for the game on the drive, however, was Michael Boley. Wait. A big named Giant gets injured? When was the last time that happend? Oh yeah, ALL THE [stinking] TIME!. The linebacker who had been having a Pro Bowl caliber year went down with a hamstring and would not return.
The half would end at 6-9. No touchdowns. No punts (that's the problem, Weatherford hasn't been on the field yet! He's our best player!). Just field goals, baby. Finally the true athletes were being given their chance to shine...riveting. Despite the missed opportunities you had to come away encouraged about this Giants offense. They were moving the ball seemingly at will on this tough Niner defense, both through the air and on the ground. If Eli and crew could just stay the course, surely the touchdowns would come. Defensivley, the G-men had done a good job keeping the touchdowns from coming for the 49ers, but their effort was a bit underwhelming. Yes, they were stopping the run, but once again their deficiencies in the secondary were being exposed and exploited by a quarterback who's spent years in the NFL one bad series away from being replaced by the hot dog vendor from section 41, or really anyone else with a pulse. Clearly the Niners came into the game believing that they could beat this Giants team through the air, and because the Giants were committed to stopping the run, they were right...that or the defensive backs just suck, it's really a toss up. Either tighten ranks in the secondary or shift your focus.
12 yard pass. 11 Yard run. Big pass again. Big run again. Another big pass. Okay. Bad start to the second half for this Giants defense. Apparently their half time adjustments were "get worse." Cory Webster saved his squad with two quality plays however, forcing yet another field goal. 6-12 San Francisco (Apparently the New York bullpen couldn't hold). The ensuing Giants possession was noteworthy only because it featured the first punt of the afternoon, as Weatherford was finally allowed to show his skill. Luckily for the Giants, however, the 49ers didn't want to be left out. They'd falter on their next possession and give their punter his chance -thus beginning the era of Victor Cruz as Giants punt returner. Cruz fielded the ball at the five and took it no where, thus ending the era of Victor Cruz as Giants punt returner, hopefully.
"Field position be dammed," said Eli Manning, however. The quarterback began to drive his team with the rhythm that had been the order of the day. Tough runs by Jacobs and big receptions by Cruz and Pascoe had the Giants within striking distance. Strike they would as Manning would unleash a brilliant pass to Manningham which the receiver skillfully brought in - a terrific catch by Manningham, the type of grab that makes you think that this receiver could haul in anything (ironic foreshadowing - it's a thing). 13-12 Giants. After a second San Francisco punt the Giants offense stalled and gave their best player another chance to shine. Weatherford would, unfortunately, prove that you were all right for thinking my glowing reviews of the punter were crazy. A side-foot special would net less than thirty yards and give the Niners the ball at midfield. Following an awful, just awful call of offsides the 49ers would put it in the end zone, a touchdown pass to Vernon Davis (a tight end who should have been guarded by Boley). 13-20 with the two point conversion.
The ensuing kick off was taken from deep in the Giants end zone and promptly returned to the ten...really? REALLY? Anyway. That possession ended with a similar frustrating and disappointing thud when Manning threw over the middle to Mario Manningham, who had broken off the route shortly after getting past the line of scrimmage. It was, of course, intercepted - a disaster of a mistake that would be capitalized upon on the next play. Kendall Hunter ran it in, 13-27.
"That's alright. We weren't down by enough, anyway. Coming back from 7? Please. We'll do it from 14." Those were the words of my father, words that seemed to be on the tongue of Eli Manning as well. The ice-in-his-veins quarterback began a drive that would end in grand fashion. After a few completions to Ballard, Manning found Nicks in the end zone. Another brilliant catch and throw, 20-27. The Giants defense forced a punt and gave the ball back to their steely-eyed quarterback looking to make late game magic happen once again.
A return to the 36 was called back to the 20 on a hold. The Giants would now have to drive eighty yards for the tie. They've done it before, could they do it again? For a while the answer appeared to be a resounding "yes." Converting on two fourth downs along the way Manning had his offense moving. In short order he had this Giants team into 49er territory, poised to once again score late and put this game into over time. Shortly before the two minute warning Manning dropped back and lofted a pass deep down the seam to Mario Manningham, who had beaten his defender by three yards. They'd done it, another great pass and catch and the Giants were going to take this game into overti-
You've got to be kidding me.
YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!
HE DROPPED IT? HE DROPPED IT! ARGH!!!!!!
Manningham let a walk-in touchdown slide through his so very much enigmatic hands. The man can catch anything, except balls laid perfectly into his arms. A few plays later the Giants faced their third fourth down of the drive, inside the 49ers ten yard line. The pass, the Giants, and my heart were spiked to the ground. The 49ers would get the win and improve to 8-1.
Sigh. This is one of those weird games that is as disappointing as it is encouraging. At first, the defining emotion from this game was certainly disappointment. Look. The Giants should have won that game. They should have won that game. Perhaps I give the 49ers too little respect, but I think the Giants are better than that team. The defense plain and simple underperformed. Yes, they did a fine job against the run but there is no excuse for Alex Smith finding the success that he did. Alex Smith. Alex. Smith. This secondary, which had played well of late, took a step back today. However, underperform as they did, this defense played well enough to get a win for an offense that doesn't continually squander opportunities. But that was not the offense on the field today. The Giants took field goals when they should have scored touchdowns, suffered through damaging, inexplicable drops and squandered a late game opportunity from inside the 49er ten yard line. Just disappointing. And yet. Defiant as ever, I find myself strangely encouraged. The Giants went on the road to face a 7-1 team and played tough. They needed to get the win, but if they can show that kind of effort going forward, they'll be fine.
Grades: Defensive Line - B: They played very well against the run, but did not get the kind of consistent pressure on Smith that they needed to. They played big late, giving the offense a chance to get the tie, but overall their game needed to be better.
Line Backers - B-: Much like the line, they played very well against the run but were less than sparkling in the pass game. Not a terrific day for the linebackers, particularly when they were burned like a red-head in the Florida sun by Vernon Davis for a touchdown. Still, they played a decent game without Boley, their signal-caller. The Boley injury is not one that can be understated, by the way. If he misses significant time this defense could be in trouble.
Defensive Backs - C-: Yes they had a pick. Yes they had some big stops. But yes, they also were decimated by a quarterback who was replaced last season by a man who is currently holding Eli Manning's clip board. Now I know I'm prone to hyperbole, and Alex Smith really isn't that bad - but he's not as good as this secondary made him look, either.
Special Teams - C: Tynes continued to kick well, but Weatherford picked a terrible time to turn in a twenty-something yard effort to set the 49ers up in good field position. They let the 49ers recover an onside kick, and would someone please tell me why we keep fielding punts at the five and running kicks out from six yards deep? I mean the returners just aren't that good. What are we doing?
Offensive Line - B-: There were some surprisingly large holes to run through for these backs, and their pass protection was acceptable.
Running Backs - A-: Can't blame anything on them. Jacobs and Ware ran tough and made the best of a tough situation.
Wide Receivers - C: Right in the middle. Nicks, Cruz, Manningham and the like made some brilliant catches - that makes me think A. However, they had some unbelievable, inexcusable, frustrating, angering, rage-evoking drops. Could be an F just because of that Manningham drop, but I'll be gentle.
Eli Manning - B: The first interception was his fault. The second just drove home the point that Manning appears to be on a different mental level than his wide receivers - Manningham can not break that route off. He was terrific when it counted and threw some flat out brilliant balls. Can't put this on him.
The G-men, still atop the NFC East, will take on the Eagles next week in an attempt to put the Eagles out of their misery. Check back here for a preview and follow me on Twitter @JoeBianchino .