Game Review: Forty-Niners at Giants


Metlife Stadium was a a third full of San Francisco fans, who grew louder and more raucous as the game progressed. Giants fans, disheartened by the team’s four game losing streak sold their tickets in droves, and fans of the Forty-Niners, who have a large national following, bought them in bunches. The Giants jumped out to a 7-0 lead, and the Giants defense, maligned all week after surrendering 350 yards rushing to the Seattle Seahawks performed admirably, but a reversion by quarterback Eli Manning, who threw five interceptions, nearly doubling his season total, doomed the Giants, as they dropped their fifth straight by a narrow margin, 16-10, and fell to 3-7 on the season.

The Giants won the opening toss and deferred, choosing to take the ball at the start of the third quarter. A holding penalty put San Francisco in a hold at their own 15 yard line, but the Forty-Niners went right to work, driving 69 yards, largely on the ground, before Frank Gore fumbled, ending the threat. Gore, rookie Carlos Hyde, and mobile quarterback Colin Kaepernick ran 7 out of 11 plays and gained 47 yards on the drive before Gore slipped on the hand off from Kaepernick and fullback Bruce Miller kicked the football out while running to block. The ball bounced loose and was slippery and evasive before Zack Bowman fell on it at the Forty-Niners 37.

Donnell's TD gave the Giants a 7-0 lead

Donnell’s TD gave the Giants a 7-0 lead

Manning brought out the Giants offense and broke a streak of twenty straight games without an opening drive touchdown. Starting at his own 37 after the fumble, Manning mixed in short runs by Rashad Jennings with passes to Rueben Randle for 20 and 22 yards before finding tight end Larry Donnell in the seam for a 19 yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead. On his two catches, Randle ran free over the middle of the San Francisco defense, once in the middle of a zone, and once beating cornerback Chris Culliver. Lining up at fullback, Donnell beat linebacker Michael Wilhoite by two yards and hauled in Manning’s pass, who had time to pass following a play action fake to Jennings. The drive took only 5 plays and covered 63 yards in 2:10.

San Francisco again moved the ball on the Giants defense sandwiching field goal drives of 11 plays and 10 plays between a Giants 3 and out that cut the score to 7-6 Giants. Veteran kicker Phil Dawson kicked field goals of 31 and 37 yards, after the Giants defense halted the long Forty-Niner drives in the red zone after San Francisco chewed up the beleaguered defense with runs and short passes. The drives straddled the first and second quarters and mixed runs by both Forty-Niner backs with short passes to receivers Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, and tight end Vernon Davis. The Giants defense was able to step up and make big plays when needed and hold San Francisco to only three point tries, keeping the Giants in the game despite giving up drives of 67 and 42 yards.

On a 2nd and 18 on the first drive, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was called for a pass interference penalty when he failed to turn around on a pass down the left sideline to Crabtree. Kaepernick, under heavy pressure from Mathias Kiwanuka rolled away and under threw the ball. Had Rodgers-Cromartie turned around, he would have easily intercepted, instead, he kept his back to the play, drew the flag, and a 35 yard penalty to extend the San Francisco drive. This followed a play where Ayers came unblocked to sack Kaepernick and set up a 2nd and 18.

Borland undercut Beckham for SF's first INT

Borland undercut Beckham for SF’s first INT

The Giants started moving the ball again, gaining 13 yards on 4 plays before Manning threw his first interception on a pass intended for Odell Beckham. Rookie linebacker Chris Borland undercut a softly thrown pass that Beckham did not attack as it was in flight and easily intercepted it. The turnover game the ball to San Francisco on the Giants 29 yard line, but the Giants defense again held, allowing only 3 yards in 3 plays, and Dawson kicked a 44 yard field goal to give the Forty-Niners a 9-7 lead.

The Giants responded, with Manning driving them deep into San Francisco territory, when on 3rd and 7 at the Forty-Niners 17, he threw interception number two, this one on a pass intended for Wilhoite. The third year linebacker caught the misfired pass that was right in his midsection to snuff out the Giants threat. There was a flag for illegal formation on the Giants, and Manning may have thought it was an aborted play, or, as theorized by game announcer John Lynch, the ball may have slipped while he was trying to reload it. A field goal attempt was assured on the drive and the turnover took a likely three points off the score board.

Both teams had one more fruitless drive in the second quarter and San Francisco took a narrow 9-7 lead into the half. The Giants defense, while surrendering 175 yards had held in critical situations and forced three field goal attempts to keep the Giants in the game. Turnovers by the offense, kept the Giants from taking a lead.

The Giants received the second half kickoff, having deferred on the coin toss, but were unable to do anything on their first drive. Ray McDonald beat John Jerry on a bull rush and sacked Manning, jarring the ball loose. Daniel Fells recovered but it put them in a 3rd and 13 hole. Aaron Lynch blew past Charles Brown, playing for the injured Justin Pugh, and ran uncontested to sack Manning on back to back plays. Pugh exited the game in the second quarter with a quadriceps injury that he originally suffered in Seattle. He was able to practice all week, but it flared up during the game and he was unable to continue. Brown, who played most of the preseason for the rehabbing Will Beatty, is an outstanding run blocker, but struggles in pass blocking. It showed all game, but was especially bad on the sack.

San Francisco wasted little time as Kaepernick  took just three plays to find Crabtree for a 48 yard touchdown to extend the Forty-Niners lead to 16-7. Crabtree caught the ball at the Giants 38 and split Will Demps and Zack Bowman, turned on his speed and ran for the touchdown. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was trailing him in coverage.

Manning brought the Giants right back, following a 38 yard kick return by Preston Parker, driving the Giants to the Forty-Niners 25 yard line where the drive stalled and Josh Brown kicked a 43 yard field goal on a 4th and 7. San Francisco got called for a running into the kicker penalty but as it would not result in a first down, the Giants declined.

Manning was pressured and made some bad throws leading to 5 INTs

Manning was pressured and made some bad throws leading to 5 INTs

The usually conservative Tom Coughlin took a huge risk an called for a surprise onside kick which Brown dribbled right to Forty-Niners safety Bubba Vetrone. Vetrone bobbled the kick and lost the handle. It was ruled a muff, confirmed upon review, and the Giants took over at their own 46 yard line. On a 3rd and 9, Manning threw his third interception of the game, this time an overthrow intended for Randle, which was intercepted by safety Eric Reid. Reid returned it 51 yards to the Giants 25, but an illegal block penalty on Aldon Smith brought it back to the Forty-Niners 32. But the interception shifted momentum back to San Francisco and negated the effect of the successful onside kick. On the interception, Manning was under heavy pressure from blitzing defensive back Dontae Johnson, who beat the struggling Brown and was closing in on the Giants quarterback as he released the ball.

Holder Andy Lee bobbled a low snap, and kept SF from extending their lead to 9 points

Holder Andy Lee bobbled a low snap, and kept SF from extending their lead to 9 points

Kaepernick was able to take advantage of the break and moved the Forty-Niners into field goal range, and Dawson lined up to attempt a 44 yard field goal that would give San Francisco a 9 point lead. Holder Andy Lee, the Forty-Niners punter, bobbled the snap, and threw a desperate play salvaging attempt incomplete, as Chykie Brown was in on his block attempt and stayed with the play, pressuring Lee and not allowing him to set to throw the pass.

On the subsequent drive, the Giants got something going when Rashad Jennings burst through the line to gain 15 yards on the first play. The next series brought a controversial play as Beckham appeared to gain enough yardage for a first down on a 3rd and 7 from mid field. Referee Gene Steratore disagreed upon review of Tom Coughlin’s challenge and the Giants offense stayed on the field for a 4th and 1. Jennings was stuffed as Jerry missed a block on Ray McDonald. Henry Hynoski, lead blocking on the play, took out Wilhoite, but McDonald was able to make the tackle short of the first down. The play should never have taken place as Beckham’s forward progress on the third down play appeared sufficient for the first down. Rather than mark the ball based on forward progress, the official spotted it based on his out of bound position, which was inches short.

Once again, the Giants defense stepped up in a big stop, forcing a three and out and getting the offense the ball back trailing by only six points. Having relied primarily on Randle and Donnell through the first three quarters, Manning started throwing for Beckham, who caught three passes on the 9 play drive that ended on the San Francisco 32 yard line with Manning fourth interception. Manning was under intense pressure from both sides, as Lunch beat Brown and Aldon Smith beat Beatty. The pass was thrown too far in front of Randle and Chris Culliver intercepted.

Coughlin's decision to bypass the FG was questionable

Coughlin’s decision to bypass the FG was questionable

For the second straight drive, the Giants defense stopped San Francisco as Crabtree dropped a critical 3rd and 4 pass after heading footsteps of the closing Bowman. The Giants got the ball back with 6:18 remaining at their own 35 and drove to the San Francisco 4 yard line for the series that turned the game. Beckham made an incredible catch, tipping the ball to himself and pulling it in to set the Giants up with a 1st and goal at the 4. Ben McAdoo called three straight fades, one to Beckham, one to Randle, and one to Donnell, all of which fell incomplete. One the pass to Donnell, Forty-Niners safery Eric Reid had his back turned and made contact eerily similar to the play that drew an pass interference call on Rodgers-Cromartie in the first quarter.

No flag was thrown by the official on the same side of the field. Both plays were borderline, but the inconsistent officiating may have affected the outcome of the game, a recurring theme in the 2014 National Football League. The Giants should have scored with a 1st and goal from the 4, and the officials are not to blame for this loss, however, officiating should be consistent, and it’s not, an issue which needs to be addressed this off season as it threatens the integrity of the sport we all love.

On fourth down, rather than kick a 21 yard field goal and cut the San Francisco lead to 3 with 4:43 remaining, Coughlin opted to leave his offense on the field. Manning’s desperation pass, while he again faced heavy pressure, intended for Parker, was tipped and intercepted again by Borland, Manning’s fifth of the game. It was by far Manning’s worst game of the season, he nearly doubled his interception total, having only thrown six in the first eight games. It’s a mulligan game for the eleventh year quarterback, who was trying to make plays under heavy pressure. Many fans are calling for Ryan Nassib, however, the Manning needs more time to master the intricacies of the west coast offense. Actual game play is the best way to learn this complex system and he will benefit from the playing time going forward.

The fourth down failure was the turning point of the game. Even though the Giants defense managed to get the ball back for the offense one more time with a minute left, it was deep in their own territory with no timeouts remaining. The desperation drive went nowhere and San Francisco held on to win 16-10. There were some positives in the game, special teams surprisingly among them. Preston Parker’s kick returns, Beckham’s punt returns, the solid follow through on the aborted kick attempt, and the successful onside kick. Randle caught 7 of 15 passes intended for him, for a career high 112 yards, and Beckham continues to make highlight reel catches, hauling in 6 of 13 passes for 93 yards.

Larry Donnell is an emerging star at tight end and has the potential to be a force at the position if he continues to develop. Robert Ayers is the star of the defense, making plays in every game, while Jason Pierre-Paul plays his way out of a blockbuster contract with every game that passes. He has no sacks again yesterday. Rookie linebacker Devon Kennard has started to flash the play making ability he showed prior to his early season hamstring injury.

Safety continues to be a position of concern to the Giants, as Quintin Demps gives up big plays on a routine basis. It’s time to give rookie Nat Berhe a chance and see what he can do.

Up next is a Sunday night rematch with Dallas, that will be in Metlife stadium, but likely in front a mixed crowd as the night game will turn off a lot of Giants fans discouraged by the team’s 3-7 record. Beating Dallas will buoy spirits for both players and fans alike, but it will require stopping DeMarco Murray, the NFL’s leading rusher and beneficiary of the best run blocking line in the National Football League. This may be the Giants Super Bowl this season, so expect the team to come out pumped up. Early success may be enough to propel them to victory, but an early Dallas lead may result in early bedtimes for Giants fans.

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