SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The Giants know they have to play better.
Their 40-0 loss to the Cowboys was followed by a squeaker at Arizona where they spotted the home team 20 points.
A furious comeback in the desert saved them on Sunday.
The Giants ideally would like to avoid falling behind by multiple scores at Levi’s Stadium, which is always one of the most challenging NFL environments for visitors.
In their first two games, the 49ers beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh and the Rams in Los Angeles.
As the 49ers finally played a home game this season, they did not have to contend with Saquon Barkley or Andrew Thomas.
Barkley was ruled out Wednesday after spraining his ankle in the final moments of Sunday’s game. The Giants will hope his sprained ankle heals in time for their next game, at home against the Seahawks on Oct. 2 on Monday Night Football.
Thomas remained sidelined by a hamstring issue, which was bad news for the Giants.
Any offensive line would be challenged by the presence of the 49ers' premier pass-rusher, Nick Bosa, and the Giants are no exception.
The 49ers ended last season as the NFL's top-ranked defense and contributed to No. 1 finishes in interceptions (20), scoring defense (16.3 points per game), yards per game allowed (300.6), points per game allowed (16.3) and big-play defense.
Coach Brian Daboll wanted to give Barkley every chance to play if he could. There may have also been some gamesmanship there that went on; perhaps Barkley never had a chance to play Thursday night. Ultimately, Barkley was ruled out on Wednesday.
Seven-year veteran Matt Breida, who played for San Francisco and also played for Buffalo when Daboll was the Bills’ offensive coordinator, started at running back.
Losing Barkley obviously created other challenges. He represents a mismatch for most linebackers, he can be a significant part of the pass game, and his status as the best play on the team has given him great credibility and confidence in the locker room on game day.
However, a game against the Niners should not be a referendum on any backup running back.
The 49ers had played 30 consecutive games without allowing a back to run for 70 yards. The last back to do it was Seattle’s Travis Homer with 80 yards on Dec. 5, 2021.
Daboll knew what the Giants are up against.
“They’ve got a lot of good players on their team,” Daboll said. “A team full of Pro Bowlers or All-Pros, whether it’s McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, Aiyuk, Bosa, (defensive lineman Javon) Hargrave, Warner. I mean, the list goes on and on. I’d say their team is well constructed. (49ers general manager) John Lynch has done a great job along with Kyle and there is a lot of challenges with this team in a number of areas.”
The Niners entered the game having won their last 12 regular-season games, easily the league’s longest active streak (Atlanta is second with four). They have played in the last two NFC championship games. San Francisco’s roster includes 11 players who have received All-Pro or Pro Bowl honors.
After their first two games, the Giants had many ways in which they could improve.
“It’s always good to get a win, but I don’t like how it happened,” cornerback Adoree’ Jackson said this week. “Like I said, I’m happy we won, but at the same time, it’s not really much to be happy about other than we won the game. I don’t like starting slow. I don’t like being behind. The good thing is, you can see our resiliency, the type of guys that we have, backs against the wall, keep fighting. But honestly, just personally, I don't have to be happy about anything other than we got the win.”
Daniel Jones seemed to agree.
“We can't afford to start slow like that and miss opportunities early in the game,” Jones said. “That’ll be an emphasis of ours going forward. But we did show (in the Arizona comeback) the fight and the resolve down the stretch, and we made a lot of those plays, and found a way to win. (I’m definitely proud of how the team responded, but there’s a lot to clean up.”
As for the defense, it did not start the season as it hoped. Through two games, the Giants defense had not created a turnover or gotten a gotten a sack.
“It’s all about complementary football,” outside linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux said. “As a team, we’ve been trying to work on that, and starting fast is everything. Whether it’s the defense going out there getting a three-and-out or it’s the offense going out there and putting some points up, that’s what we need.”
Thibodeaux was looking forward to the test.
“I feel like the team is primed,” he said. “We've been consistently making gains and I feel like it's going to be definitely a good matchup.