Yesterday, the same team went out and got smoked by the Giants, getting many lousy tastes of their own medicine in a miserable 26-3 loss.
Playing against the team that knocked them out of the Playoffs last season, the 49ers came into this game regarded by many as the class of the NFC, and the Giants, perhaps, were viewed as an erratic irritant. Not so. The Giants came in and played a perfect game. Eli Manning proved once again why he's a Championship Quarterback, hitting just about every pass he needed to make, and the Giants running game gashed the 49ers front late in the game to eat up the clock and eliminate any chance of a comeback.
The game started out with an eerie harbinger of what was to come. The 49ers took the kickoff and shot right down the field, something they've done a few times this season. When the drive stalled, they sent out David Akers for a 43-yard Field Goal. But the kick sailed wide right, ending the drive with no points. Though Akers converted his next attempt, giving the 49ers a 3-0 lead, that ended up being the best the offense would look all day, and the only points the 49ers would put on the board.
Everything pretty much went downhill from there. Alex Smith, who had been generally accurate all season long, had his worst day in years, throwing 3 interceptions, all of which resulted in Giants points. The first one, an overthrown deep pass to Delanie Walker, seemed to kick the Giants into high gear. After not doing much their first few times out, the Giants offense dug in, the line stifled the pass rush, and Eli Manning went to work dissecting the secondary like a surgeon. He was spreading the ball all over the field, hitting every receiver in stride and culminating the drive with a bullet Touchdown pass to Victor Cruz.
With the lead, the Giants defense then dug in and set to work overwhelming the 49ers offense. They seemed to have all the right moves, which included jamming Vernon Davis at the line of scrimmage and keeping him well-covered, keeping constant pressure on Alex Smith and not allowing him to make long passes, or else sacking him altogether, and forcing the 49ers into a number of questionable play calls involving Colin Kaepernick, who appeared to be coming into the game at inopportune times and disrupting whatever rhythm the 49ers were generating.
Even when things went right for the 49ers, they managed to screw up the momentup. Down 10-3 just before the half, the 49ers blocked a Giants Field Goal attempt, and immediately followed that with a long completion to Mario Manningham from Kaepernick to set up another Akers Field Goal attempt. But this 52-yard attempt sailed wide left, and instead of creating a momentum swing, they just handed it back to the Giants, who started the 2nd half with a long Kickoff Return and another Touchdown, which essentially put the game out of reach.
This was sort of the opposite of the Jets game for the 49ers. Already in deep trouble, the game just disintegrated entirely when Antrel Rolle ended the next two possessions by Intercepting Smith deep in San Francisco's end, making a pair of brilliant plays on balls that were just slightly over or underthrown. It was scant consolation that the defense was able to keep the Giants to Field Goals. The offense just wasn't doing much of anything. Even after Smith was finally able to hit a deep throw to Randy Moss, the ensuing play saw Kaepernick bizarrely in the game and taking a 11-yard sack. Forced to go for it on 4th down and 15, all Smith could do was hit Vernon Davis on a checkdown for a minimal gain.
The end result was, in addition to Smith's worst day in years, the worst loss the 49ers have had under Jim Harbaugh. There's not much good that came out of a game like this, and considering that the 49ers have to get their act together quickly with a game against Seattle coming up on Thursday, it probably couldn't have happened at a worse time. Rather than their defense controlling the tempo, it was the Giants defense that ran the game. The 49ers could neither run nor pass with any kind of consistency, and when you can't move the ball and score, you won't win, no matter how good your defense plays. The defense wasn't especially bad on this day, but given the fact that the Giants, already one of the league's best offensive teams, had 3 short field opportunities that generated 13 points, what chance did they have? Not only could they not beat the team that ended their season last year, it appeared that they still haven't improved enough to beat them.
However, it's only Week 6. Last season, the 49ers beat the Giants rather handily in November before their Playoff meeting. Things change a lot over the course of an NFL season. And, not every team can put out an offense that boasts Eli Manning and his plethora of standout receivers. This isn't to say that the 49ers should just pack it in now. They certainly aren't as bad as they looked yesterday, and they looked pretty bad. But they also have played inconsistently this season over many of their games. Sometimes, a real ass-kicking can serve as a wake-up call for an underachieving team. But, sometimes, it can lead to things spiraling out of control. Again, Thursday's game against an opportunistic Seattle Seahawks team that upset the Patriots yesterday hits at a particularly bad moment. How the 49ers come out in response to Sunday's beating will tell us a lot about where they're going and how far they've come. I do feel somewhat concerned.
But, then again, I have other things I can take some solace in.