SAN FRANCISCO -- Now the Giants are in a real fix.
How can they continue to be the underdogs, the disrespected Rodney Dangerfields of the NFL, if they keep winning games like these? It might be impossible for that collective "nobody" Tom Coughlin refers to as believing in the Giants to keep doubting them. Not after Sunday's 26-3 pounding of the 49ers, the team that came into this game considered to be the best in the conference, if not all of football.
There was even one Giants player willing to admit that they could be, you know, decent.
"I think it sends a message to everybody in the NFC that, you know, don't count us out because we're a very, very good team and we believe that," center David Baas said in a fit of unbridled self-awareness.
But that quickly faded for Baas, back to the baseline of boredom from being dissed. Asked if he thinks anyone will, in fact, have the gumption to pick the Giants to win next week's game against the Redskins, Baas simply said:
"We don't care."
Coughlin, who forged the us-against-the-world mentality, was asked if the Giants will be favorites now as well.
"Maybe not," the coach said. "We are going to work hard to make sure [of that]."
Still, this game was hard to ignore. The 49ers had outscored their previous two opponents 79-3 and were coming off a game in which they were the first team in NFL history to have at least 300 yards rushing and passing in the same game. The Giants turned the entire 49ers game plan around, finding a way to run on them (116 yards and a touchdown from Ahmad Bradshaw), stop their run (Frank Gore had 36 yards on only eight carries) and force turnovers from Alex Smith, who threw three interceptions in his first multiple-turnover game in 27 starts. They even improved on one of their own areas that had been lacking, recording six sacks.
"I think this is our most complete game all year long, and it came against a very, very worthy opponent," said safety Antrel Rolle, who had two of those interceptions. "We're just going to continue to grow."
The opportunities for the Giants were plentiful. On a day when the Cowboys and Eagles lost and the 49ers gave them many chances to score, the Giants took advantage of it all, vaulting them to first place in the NFC East and the top of the pecking order of perception in the conference.
They scored on their first three possessions of the second half, all of them on drives that were set up by other units. First David Wilson returned the opening kickoff of the third quarter 66 yards -- "a momentum-changing play," Coughlin called it -- and the Giants drove for a touchdown and a 17-3 lead. After rushing for 23 yards in the first half, the Giants ran for 23 yards on that drive, including a 1-yard run by Bradshaw for the score.
The next two drives by the 49ers each ended in a Rolle INT. First he reached back and made a one-handed grab on a pass from Smith intended for Mario Manningham and returned it to the 49ers' 12. Then he made his second pick, stepping in front of Michael Crabtree, and returned it to the 5. The Giants could only manage field goals off those turnovers, but it was enough for the 23-3 edge.
The Giants took their first lead in the second quarter off a turnover, as well. Prince Amukamara intercepted a deep pass for Delanie Walker to give the Giants the ball at their own 33. The Giants then drove 67 yards -- 55 on some critical third-down receptions by Domenik Hixon -- and scored the game's first touchdown on Eli Manning's 6-yard pass to Victor Cruz in the back of the end zone.
After a three-and-out by the 49ers, the Giants tacked on a field goal on their next drive to go ahead 10-3 with 2:56 left in the half.
The Giants now face the Redskins and the Cowboys, two division foes. Coughlin was quick to remind everyone that the Giants may be sitting atop the standings, but they are 0-2 in the NFC East. Will he build a theme around that this week?
Said Coughlin, "I'll be thinking about that on the trip home."