Monday, November 17, 2014

Throw It Again!

I did not, in spite of my best efforts, figure out a way to score tickets to the 49ers/Giants game yesterday at the Meadowlands. I instead was relegated to a front row seat on my couch to enjoy the 49ers second consecutive Kevin Burkhart game, and their second consecutive Kevin Burkhart win on the road, as the 49ers defense harangued Eli Manning all day long and forced him into 5 Interceptions, which was good because the offense kind of loafed around all day and a game that felt like it should have been a runaway win ended up being a 16-10 squeaker.

This was the kind of effort that underscored just how quietly good the 49ers have played on defense this season, because they really carried the team to this win. Chris Borland, who's played so well in Patrick Willis' stead, had yet another big time performance, racking up another 12 tackles and scoring a pair of Interceptions, the second of which came late in the 4th Quarter with the Giants 5 yards away from scoring a potential winning Touchdown. Borland was backed by Michael Wilhoite, Chris Culliver and Eric Reid, who also picked off Manning and Aaron Lynch and Ray McDonald, who sacked Manning and generally made his life difficult all afternoon.

It was clear that the Defense was going to have to come up with a big time outing early on. Though the 49ers started with the ball and moved smartly down the field on a drive comprised mostly behind the power running of Frank Gore with a side of Carlos Hyde. Colin Kaepernick also added in a 16-yard run. But the running game ended up doing the 49ers in when Gore mishandled a handoff from Kaepernick and in the process of trying to pick the ball up ended up having it conk off his helmet instead. Needless to say, this did not end well, and instead of an early lead, the 49ers found themselves with an early deficit as Eli Manning ripped the Giants offense right down the field, finishing in the End Zone when he hit Larry Donnell for a 19-yard score.

The 49ers responded by going right back to Frank Gore, who redeemed himself by picking up 17 yards. But Kaepernick was not only sacked but also lost 7 yards on a designed run which prevented the drive from progressing further, and ultimately the drive stalled and ended in a Phil Dawson Field Goal. The 49ers next possession appeared a mirror image, as runs by Gore, Hyde and Kaepernick moved the 49ers down the field. Though Kaepernick managed to avoid getting sacked, he also overshot Michael Crabtree near the end zone and the drive finished with yet another Dawson Field Goal.

The Giants ensuing possession started out well enough, but on the 3rd play of the drive, Chris Borland jumped in front of a Manning pass intended for Odell Beckham, Jr and picked it off for his first career Interception. Borland returned the pick down to the Giants 29 yard line, putting the 49ers in prime position to grab their first lead of the day. They did grab the lead, but only after Kaepernick failed to complete passes to Crabtree and Vernon Davis (who's become a bit of a lost man in this often-stagnant offense). This led to—you guessed it—a Phil Dawson Field Goal that put the 49ers ahead 9-7.

The Giants responded with a drive that appeared primed to end in points, as Manning completed a pair of long passes to Donnell and Rueben Randle. But with the ball inside the 49ers 20-yard line, Manning reared back and fired a pass directly into the hands of Michael Wilhoite. Manning obviously just didn't see Wilhoite—at least that's the only logical explanation—because the pass was just thrown so perfectly to Wilhoite that you might have assumed he had a Giants uniform on. Manning could only stand there with his trademark dumbfounded look on his face while Tom Coughlin turned 34 shades of purple. Fortunately for Manning, the 49ers couldn't do much with their good fortune. Kaepernick nearly handed the ball back to the Giants on the next play when he fumbled the snap, and although he hit Crabtree for a 25 yard gain, he then overshot Brandon Lloyd and missed Crabtree on a short pass, and the 49ers ended up punting back to the Giants.

Following halftime, the 49ers forced the Giants to punt before finally getting themselves into the End Zone on offense. Kaepernick started the possession with a deep pass intended for Vance McDonald, but McDonald, who has a knack for not taking advantage of the few passes intended for him, didn't come particularly close to catching the ball. No matter. Two plays later, Kaepernick threw a pass down the middle for Crabtree, which Crabtree did catch in traffic and subsequently broke an attempted tackle by Quinton Demps and then just outran Demps into the End Zone for a 48-yard Touchdown to put the 49ers ahead 16-7. This seemed, for all intents and purposes, a game-clincher for the 49ers, but the action was far from over. The Giants, on their ensuing possession, drove down the field and scored on a Josh Brown Field Goal to cut the 49ers lead to 16-10. They then surprised the 49ers by executing an Onside Kick that bounced off the hands of Bubba Ventrone and into the hands of Michael Herzlich, setting up the Giants in prime position to grab the lead back with the ball near midfield. But on 3rd down, Manning airmailed a pass not particularly close to Randle that was easily intercepted by Eric Reid, giving the ball back to the 49ers and putting that exasperated look on Eli Manning's face once again.

The 49ers, who on offense continued to let the Giants hang around, again set them up in prime position when their subsequent drive stalled and Dawson came on to attempt another Field Goal. But a poor snap short-circuited the effort, and Andy Lee was forced to scramble and throw an ill-fated pass into no man's land, giving the ball back to the Giants near midfield. Though the Giants did move the ball, they ended up faced with a 4th down and 1 at the 49ers 43 yard line. They attempted to convert, but the 49ers defense rose up and stuffed Rashad Jennings for no gain, taking the ball back as the game moved to the 4th Quarter.

The 49ers offense continued to do a whole lot of nothing, which meant that the Defense was going to have to make plays to win the game. And make plays they did. After punting the ball back to the Giants, Manning managed to move the ball into the 49ers end of the field, completing multiple passes to Odell Beckham, Jr. But once again, when it was needed most, the 49ers got pressure on Manning, forced him to rush a pass, and he overthrew his intended target and a 49ers defender—this time Chris Culliver—was there to reel in the Interception. One drive (and a 49ers punt) later, Manning had the Gnats on the move again. This time, he hit Beckham for a highlight reel catch at the 49ers 4 yard line. Now, after all the heavy lifting the 49ers Defense had to do, they had to come up with one more stop, because this was probably the game right here. The offense had kind of limped along all afternoon, and in spite of creating 4 turnovers, this was going to bite them in the ass. But for as bad as the 49ers looked on Offense, the Gnats proved themselves just as inept. Three consecutive times, Eli Manning tried to throw a fade route towards the back corner of an End Zone, and three consecutive times, a 49ers Defender got in the face of a Giants receiver to knock away the pass. It came down to a final 4th down play. Manning this time didn't go back to the fade, because clearly, although the 49ers kept giving him open looks on the outside, he couldn't seal the deal. Instead, he tried to thread a pass over the middle intended for Preston Parker, but Donte Johnson jumped the route and batted the ball up in the air, where Chris Borland was waiting to come down with the Interception, which was either the scintillating 5th on the day created by the 49ers defense, or the Comically Embarrassing 5th thrown by Eli Manning, which left both he and Coughlin to stand there with stupefied looks on their faces.

The remainder of the game was academic. The 49ers couldn't run out the clock and punted back to the Gnats. Eli Manning didn't throw a 6th Interception, but he also didn't complete any passes to his own teammates either, and thus, the 49ers were able to escape with a 16-10 victory, their second consecutive hard-fought Road Victory.

The win, I'll take, although on the offensive side of things, there wasn't much to be thrilled about. Gore ran for 95 yards, and Hyde and Kaepernick also had a few yards on the ground. Kaepernick managed to complete a paltry 15 of 29 passes for 193 yards and a Touchdown. He didn't turn the ball over, but he also didn't do anything especially impressive, either, which makes you wonder what the offensive concept was this afternoon. Last week, it seemed like he was only able to make plays when he absolutely had to. This week, the urgency wasn't there, I guess. I suppose it helps when your defense gets you 5 turnovers, but that obviously doesn't happen every week.

At now 6-4, the 49ers return home for a game against Washington which they might be looking past considering that game is followed with a short week and a Thanksgiving Night matchup against dear friends the Seattle Seahawks. They'd be wise to not fall into one of those trap games next Sunday. Washington looks the part of a pushover, but the 49ers have been burned by supposedly inferior opponents at home twice already this season and another loss in a crowded NFC Playoff hunt could be severely damaging.

No comments: