There was (rightly) a lot of focus on the final drive of the game yesterday, the one where Mario Manningham was kicking himself for not going all-out for a deep pass and an Eli Manning throw intended for Victor Cruz was batted down at the line of scrimmage.
That’s the point where the Giants did not win the game.
The point where they lost the game – which is a bit of a different way of looking at it – occurred just a little earlier in the second half.
I think that stretch began with the third-and-4 play late in the third quarter. Eli Manning was rolling to his right and Hakeem Nicks was wide open. Manning had an easy pass – he probably could have thrown it left-handed, as he is sometimes apt to do – but he short-armed it and the ball fell shy of Nicks. It was a three-and-out for the Giants and it brought Steve Weatherford out to punt with 28 seconds left in the quarter.
Weatherford’s punt was one of his worst of the season, a 29-yarder that went off the outside of his foot and crossed out of bounds at the 50. That set up the 49ers with great field position. Still, as play rolled into the fourth quarter, the Giants looked to have a chance to get off the field. The 49ers were facing a third-and-2 at the Giants’ 42. So what happened? Dave Tollefson was flagged for a neutral zone infraction, giving the 49ers a first down. Two plays later, Alex Smith hit Vernon Davis for the 31-yard touchdown (thanks to a defensive breakdown that rookie middle linebacker Greg Jones blamed himself for) and then hit Michael Crabtree for a two-point conversion and a 20-13 lead.
Da’Rel Scott was smothered on the ensuing kickoff and only got to the 11. The Giants ran Brandon Jacobs up the middle for three yards, but the next pass was Eli Manning’s second interception. Manningham cut his route off and wanted to break outside. Manning threw down the middle. Carlos Rogers was there for the pick and the 49ers had the ball at the Giants’ 17. Kendall Hunter covered those 17 yards on the next play, gashing the Giants’ defense for a touchdown.
So there you have it. A span of 3:02 in which the Giants had major breakdowns on offense, defense and special teams, allowing the 49ers to score 15 points and ultimately hold on to win the game, 27-20.
It’s not quite the gut-punching final seven minutes of the Eagles game last year, but it was certainly a confined area of disappointing play that cost the Giants the game on a day when they otherwise played pretty well.