Giants 24, 49ers 6
After a rout of the Washington Redskins seven days ago, the New York Giants had the look of an emerging NFC power. They spent the past week focusing on showing the proper amount of respect to their next opponent, even though the San Francisco 49ers are in the midst of a massive rebuilding effort.
But despite their best efforts, the Giants were played to a virtual standstill by the 49ers for 45 minutes Sunday at Monster Park.
It was not until a one-yard touchdown run by Brandon Jacobs early in the fourth quarter -- set up by a 50-yard catch by Plaxico Burress -- that the Giants gained control. Jacobs ran for another one-yard touchdown later in the fourth quarter to remove any lingering doubts.
The Giants (6-2) went on to a 24-6 victory over the 49ers (2-6), giving them sole possession of first place in the NFC East at the midpoint of the season.
"It was a tough sled," said Giants running back Tiki Barber, held to 71 yards on 21 carries by the 49ers after shredding the Redskins for 206 yards one week earlier. "We struggled a little bit."
It was the first true road victory for New York, which also won a game at Giants Stadium when they were the designated visitors against the New Orleans Saints in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The Giants are averaging nearly 35 points a game at Giants Stadium this season, and only 20 when they are truly a road team. Sunday's victory was the first of Eli Manning's career away from Giants Stadium, a big relief for the second-year quarterback.
"I think this is a step up in my career," said Manning, who completed 18 of 33 passes for 251 yards. "Every game I learn something and I hope to improve from what I picked up today."
The 49ers, blown out two weeks ago by the Redskins, took little solace in keeping the Giants close for three quarters. They have not scored a touchdown in their last three home games, and have been held without an offensive touchdown in five of their eight games.
"It's very frustrating," veteran wide receiver Johnnie Morton said. "It's really embarrassing. This is professional football, not high school football. Even in high school, they score a lot of points. We need to score a lot of touchdowns. The defense is holding us in games. We need to hold up our end of the bargain."
The 49ers started their fourth different quarterback in five weeks against the Giants, but second-year player Cody Pickett was not the reason for their 21st loss in the last 25 regular season games.
Pickett -- a former high school rodeo star in Idaho -- played because of last month's trade to Tampa Bay of former starter Tim Rattay, and because of injuries to rookie Alex Smith and backup Ken Dorsey. Pickett -- a former University of Washington star chosen in the seventh round of the NFL draft last year -- completed 12 of 21 passes for 102 yards, and tossed one very costly interception.
What really hurt the 49ers were offensive penalties, including five false starts by right tackle Kwame Harris, along with a holding penalty by left tackle Anthony Clement just before halftime.
Clement's penalty nullified a circus catch by Brandon Lloyd at the Giants 2-yard line with the 49ers trailing by only a field goal. Moments later, Pickett was intercepted by safety Brent Alexander, setting up a 32-yard touchdown grab by tight end Jeremy Shockey that put the Giants ahead 10-0 at halftime.
The 49ers chipped away with two long field goals by Joe Nedney in the third quarter, but that was as close as they could get.
On the final play of the third quarter, Manning threw deep to Burress racing down the right sideline. Burress was covered tightly by cornerback Bruce Thornton, but reached up with his right arm and managed to haul in the pass for a 50-yard gain.
"I was just trying to get a hand on it," Burress said. "I tried to tip it back to myself, but I couldn't. The ball was more on the inside of [Thornton], and I was more on the outside. I just stuck my hand over his arm and tried to get a hand on it."
With that catch, Burress put the Giants in position for the touchdown that eliminated all hope for the offensively challenged 49ers. As for the victory, it prevented the Giants from reliving the nightmare of last year, when they also were 5-2 after seven games. They lost their eighth game to a bad Chicago team, and went on to finish 6-10. Had the Giants lost Sunday to the 49ers, the parallels would have been unavoidable.
"We've won games in a variety of fashions and that's a good testament to the character we've developed this season," Barber said.
"That will carry us a long way."