If there were ever a more perfect opportunity for the Giants to enjoy a well-earned moment to deliver an in-your-face to anyone who suggested they weren't up to the challenge of beating a team as seemingly dominant as the 49ers, this was it.
The Giants not only beat the 49ers, they humiliated them in front of a sellout crowd at Candlestick Park, scene of so many epic Giants-Niners battles. The final score was 26-3, and it didn't even feel that close after the Giants ground up a defense that had been among the best in football and manhandled a 49ers running attack that came in as the NFL's most dominant.
Go ahead, fellas. You've earned the right to enjoy some chest-puffing after this one.
Only one thing: The Giants were in no mood to boast, even after pummeling a 49ers team that was bent on revenge for last season's 20-17 overtime loss in the NFC title game.
A statement game for the Giants? Not exactly.
"I don't think we needed to make a statement," linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said in a happy yet subdued Giants locker room. "We proved to ourselves that we came together as a group, and we proved that we can go out there and play with anybody."
Justin Tuck, never short on confidence, was equally restrained after he and his defensive teammates manhandled a 49ers team that had beaten its last two opponents by a combined score of 79-3. "We're 4-2. That's the only statement we made," Tuck said.
So why all the levelheadedness after what figured to be an emotional win against a team that wasn't afraid to talk big before this one? Simple. The Giants know there is plenty that can happen in the coming weeks that can undo all the good from yesterday. But mostly, they know that the operative word right now is perspective. Or, to put it another way, it's October.
"We didn't win anything other than a game," Kevin Boothe said. "It's great, it's an NFC win against a quality opponent, and hopefully we can build on it. But that's pretty much as far as it goes."
Yes, Tom Coughlin's team is awfully good, and it is awfully mature. The defending champions know there's no use talking smack so early in the season. The Giants are 0-2 in the division, and they realize that losing to either the Redskins or Cowboys the next two weeks would offset much of the positives earned from beating the 49ers.
"You don't win anything in October," Tuck said. "We all know some teams playing their best ball in October don't even make it to the Super Bowl. We all know it's a process, so we're not going to get overly excited about it. As long as we stay humble and go through the process, we'll be just fine."
The Giants were more than just fine against the 49ers -- they were brilliant. They churned out 149 rushing yards against a team that had allowed just 81.4 yards coming into the game, as Ahmad Bradshaw (116 yards) became only the second running back in the last 43 games to go over 100 against the 49ers. Eli Manning did just enough in the passing game with 193 yards and a touchdown and wasn't sacked once, compared to six times in the NFC title game.
And the defense was absolutely overpowering in shutting down the 49ers' running attack. That forced Alex Smith into far too many passing situations, and the result was not good for the home team; he had a season-high three interceptions and 49ers QBs were sacked six times.
Statement game? Maybe in everyone else's eyes. Just not in the defending champs.