Talk about big games, Fox's "America's Game of the Week" was the much anticipated NFC Championship rematch from a year ago, featuring the defending Super Bowl champions the New York Giants, and the talented San Francisco 49ers. This game had playoff implications written all over it, and many expected a tight game. Well that wasn't the case at Candlestick Park as the Giants won in convincing fashion over the Niners, 23-6.
The Giants came into Sunday's game as the third highest scoring team in the NFL, and wanted to do more of the same this week by scoring as many points as they could on that vaunted 49er defense. Something many teams have had trouble doing so far, as they were coming off a 2 game stretch outscoring their opponents 79-3. The biggest emphasis on the offensive production going in was if the passing attack would continue to do well, especially with the timely return of star receiver Hakeem Nicks (knee/foot injury), and veteran lineman David Deihl (MCL sprain). Quarterback Eli Manning didn't have numbers that jumped off the page with 15/28 completions, 198 yards, and 1 touchdown. It was his ball security, timely conversions, and leadership that helped lead this offense to score 26 total points on the Niners. Another key factor into Eli's game, his offensive line kept him clean not allowing any sacks against the heavily talented 49er pass rush.
Now remember when I mentioned this 49er team had only allowed 3 points the previous two weeks. Well they also kept teams from rushing over 100 yards on them all season. That stat went out the window quick as Ahmad Bradshaw continued his rushing success this season (200 yards, Week 5) as he pounded the 49er defense into the ground. Much credit goes to his offensive line as well, as they opened big rushing lanes for him allowing him to make plays in the open field. Bradshaw finished with 27 carries, 116 yards, and 1 touchdown. Rookie David Wilson also made some contributions on special teams. His explosiveness, and sheer speed has allowed him to make some great returns these past 3 weeks. He opened the second half with a 66 yard return giving the offense great field position, and leading to a go ahead score for a 17-3 lead.
Now the passing attack wasn't the star of the show, but they still made plays when needed against this defense. Victor Cruz who had a verbal war with 49er cornerback Carlos Rogers was able to salsa at Rogers expense yet again as he finished with 6 receptions, 58 yards, and 1 touchdown. Hakeem Nicks who returned from injury didn't have a big game with only 3 receptions, and 44 yards but his presence alone allowed single coverage on Cruz making his day a lot easier. Domenik Hixon the teams 3rd option had a nice game as well, finishing with 4 receptions, and 78 yards. Not a big day from these guys, but I have a feeling they don't mind having a complete game like they did Sunday.
A rough outing for the 49ers offense, who literally were shut down for the entire game. The main point of attack for this team running back Frank Gore was stifled by the Giant defensive front, only finishing with 8 carries, and 36 yards. Gore is one of the premeire backs in the NFL, so it goes to show how well the Giants defense played Sunday as they stopped him from totaling more than 50 yards on the ground.
Things got worst for the Niners, due to the inability of their rushing attack the burden of carrying the offense fell on the right arm of quarterback Alex Smith. Smith most notably known for being a "game manager", could not step up to the task of carrying the team by way of the passing attack. He was either sacked or disrupted all game, due to his offensive line being dominated by the Giants defensive front and his main weapon in tight end Vernon Davis was shut down by teh Giants secondary. Combined with all of those negative factors, Smith who is known for taking care of the ball (only 5 interceptions last season) had one of his worst games in about 3 years with 19/30 completions, 200 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. The last time Smith had a game with 2+ interceptions was two seasons ago. The Niners did try to mix it up, putting in quarter back Colin Kaepernick at times to run option plays but even that for the most part was shut down by the Giant defense. The air, and the ground game was inept for the most part as they took a beating from a red hot Giants defense.
Giant fans were treated to a big time defensive performance. The defensive front did their job, and then some dominating the line of scrimmage not allowing the 49er running backs to get it going on the ground. By eliminating the threat of the ground game, the Giants made things even worse for the 49ers by disrupting the passing game. Jason Pierre Paul was able to make key plays, getting 2 sacks on Alex Smith. The team finished with 6 sacks in total, and with that pressure on quarter back Alex Smith he turned the ball over 3 times through the air. He hasn't done that in over two seasons, which is proof of how well the defense played.
The first interception was made by second year corner Prince Amukamara (led the team in tackles, 6) who made a big time play taking away what could have been a 30+ yard gain through the air for the Niners. The next 2 picks both came from veteran safety Antrel Rolle (also took both back into 49er territory). Not only did he create turnovers, but he also played the major part in shutting down tight end Vernon Davis who is without a doubt the Niners premeire weapon through the air. With the collective defensive effort of the team, they were able to hold the Niners to only 3 points, ending their high scoring stretch. This defense looks to keep this play going, and if they do teams better be on notice or they'll see a lot more of these types of games.
What we saw Sunday was in my opinion the worst defensive performance from this 49er team since head coach Jim Harbaugh took over. They weren't victims of an Eli Manning air assault, even though he did get a score in. They were victims of a ground and pound which is never the case with this defense. However it was, and Ahmad Bradshaw made them pay with each carry. Bradshaw became the only other running back besides the Seattle Seahawk's Marshaw Lynch to rush for over 100 yards on this defense in the last two seasons.
Inept in all factors this defense was especially their highly regarded pass rush. The defensive front for the 49ers was absolutely dominated, not able to get a single sack on Eli Manning. The Giants offensive line made it a priority to control the line of scrimmage providing a clean pocket for Manning, and clear rushing lanes for Bradshaw. We didn't see any big plays from the Niner secondary, Patrick Willis with the rest of the linebacking core, or the defensive front led by Justin Smith. Not a good game at all for the Niners who were stifiled in all areas most notably their defense.
The New York Giants are now 4-2. Next week they face their NFC East division mates the Washington Redskins, and sensational rookie QB Robert Griffin III. The game will be at Met Life Stadium at 1:00 pm, only on FOX.