Sunday's Giants game felt a lot like a heavyweight title fight for the ages with both teams throwing haymaker after haymaker in an attempt to avoid annihilation at the hands of their opponent. The game, like just about every one the Giants have played this season, came right down to the wire.
Unlike most of those other games, though, this one ended with the Giants on the wrong side of the final score. 49ers defensive end Justin Smith knocked down a pass on fourth-and-two on the 10-yard-line with 34 seconds to play to give the 49ers a 27-20 win.
The game turned during a 61-second span of the fourth quarter when the Niners scored 15 points sandwiched around an Eli Manning interception. The Giants badly blew coverage on tight end Vernon Davis on a 31-yard touchdown catch, which the Niners followed with a brilliantly designed two-point conversion play to Michael Crabtree.
Manning threw a pick on a miscommunication with Mario Manningham on the next Giants series and Kendall Hunter ran 17 yards for another score to put the Niners up 27-13 in the blink of an eye. Manning would throw a touchdown to Hakeem Nicks and convert two fourth downs to put the Giants on the doorstep of another stunning comeback, but Smith's hands found the ball and the Giants lost for the third time this season.
The loss is a big one for a couple of reasons. The first is that the Cowboys, who have an easy schedule in the next few weeks, moved just a game behind the Giants in the NFC East race. The Giants have games with the Saints and Packers after next week's date with the Eagles and they have two games left with the Cowboys, all of which adds up to a fairly tense situation for Big Blue.
The other big reason is that the win leaves San Francisco at 8-1 on the season. That record, plus the tiebreak over the Giants, gives them the inside track on a first-round bye and on home field should the two teams meet again in the playoffs.
That's dangerous because these 49ers are a very good team. They went away from their offensive strength -- the run game -- and rode Alex Smith all day to very good results. The Giants pass rush couldn't make enough happen against a very good offensive line and the secondary couldn't make nearly enough plays to keep the Giants in the game.
The other big thing the Niners have going for them is the spirit of the aforementioned heavyweight champ. Jim Harbaugh dialed up an onside kick after a second quarter field goal and the Niners recovered it to put themselves in position for another three points and a 9-6 halftime lead.
Manning had another pick in the first half and didn't play his best game of the season. He got very little help from the running game, Manningham dropped a potential touchdown just before the final play and the slow offensive starts that have led to so many thrills finally caught up with the team today.
It's not a killer, by any means, but it is a reminder of just how much work the Giants still have to do this season. The Patriots win was brilliant, but the picture looks much different after Sunday's loss.