At the start of the 2012-2013 NFL season, experts and pundits alike deemed the San Francisco 49ers as the championship-caliber team to beat. The defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants took exception. On Sunday, Eli Manning and Co. took their match up with the 49ers, as a statement game to remind the rest of the league that no matter which team is projected No. 1, the road to this season’s title must come through New York. The message was sent loud and clear as the G-Men marched into Candlestick Park and dominated the Niners en route to a 26-3 victory in a rematch of last season’s N.F.C. Championship game.
After outscoring the New York Jets, 34-0, and the Buffalo Bills, 45-3, Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said no one expected New York to beat San Francisco in Week 6. Well, the 49ers were finally out matched and no one expected the complete annihilation of a team many considered to be the best the N.F.C. Eli Manning threw for 193 yards, with 13 completions to his receivers, including a touchdown to Victor Cruz, and running back Ahmad Bradshaw ran for 116 yards and a score, as Big Blue rode the wave of its stalwart defense, who collected six sacks –along with four field goals by Lawrence Tynes– to deliver Niners outspoken head coach Jim Harbaugh, the most lopsided loss of his tenure.
The Giants heard all week long about how the 49ers felt last season’s N.F.C. title was stolen from them by New York, about how much better San Francisco got in the offseason –with the acquisitions of Randy Moss and two former Giants, Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs– and about how unbeatable the Niners had looked in outscoring their previous two opponents by a frightful margin. During last season’s N.F.C. championship game, the Giants grinded out a 20-17 overtime win at a rain-soaked Candlestick Park on January 22, capitalizing on two fumbles punts by Williams en route to another Super Bowl title over the New England Patriots. All week, the Niners talked about “unfinished business,” and Harbaugh added to the hype when he fired back a strongly worded statement criticizing Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, who had said All-Pro defensive end Justin Smith often “gets away with murder” holding linemen. Gilbride’s incendiary comment was out of line. Harbaugh’s response echoed throughout the Giants locker room and got their attention.
49ers starting quarterback Alex Smith entered the game with eight touchdown passes and one interception, giving him the league’s top passer rating. On Sunday, he was intercepted three times by the Giants. A 49ers offense that averaged 29.8 points per game, and had scored a combined 79-3 the previous two games, was held to its lowest output since being shutdown two seasons ago by the Atlanta Falcons. With the help of Manningham and Moss, the Niners receivers made a larger impression than they did back in January, but they were outplayed by those of the Giants, whose big plays were the key to blowing through the NFL’s second-stingiest defense, both in terms of total yards allowed and passing yards.
New York has now won two of three games against San Francisco in the last 11 months. When the running game is clicking and Manning has time to throw, the Giants’ offense is awfully hard to slow down – even for an elite defense like that of the 49ers. And when the champion Giants are highly motivated to prove their naysayers wrong and make a statement, Coughlin’s team is extremely hard to beat.