What it means: The 49ers took another step in convincing skeptics they can defeat the top teams without a purportedly "elite" quarterback behind center. With Frank Gore contained early and sidelined by a knee injury for stretches, Alex Smith carried a larger share of the offense this week. He was up to the challenge, mixing in timely rushes to supplement his throwing while generally avoiding errors once again. The 49ers (8-1) maintained their five-game lead in the NFC West and looked like the second-best team in the league.
What I liked: Smith completed 19 of 30 pass attempts for 242 yards. He came through with the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. His lone interception wasn't his fault; the receiver dropped the ball and knocked it into the air. Inside linebacker Patrick Willis had a sack and multiple tackles for loss. Cornerback Carlos Rogers affirmed his status as one of the top free-agent additions this past offseason, collecting two interceptions. Justin Smith batted down the Giants' fourth-down attempt deep in 49ers territory to preserve the victory. The 49ers' offensive coaches did a good job freeing tight end Vernon Davis for a touchdown. They also showed creativity with a successful two-point conversion pass to Michael Crabtree, who lined up in the backfield on the play. This wasn't the best defensive performance by San Francisco from a statistical standpoint, but the defense made key plays in timely moments.
What I didn't like: Ted Ginn Jr.'s dropped pass before halftime led to an interception and robbed the 49ers of a needed scoring opportunity when the team was already in field goal range. Gore got nothing going when he was in the game and spent most of his afternoon on the sideline. The 49ers' Kendall Hunter did strike with an impressive 17-yard touchdown run at a key point in the game, but San Francisco's ground game was not consistent from play to play. Beyond Rogers, the 49ers' secondary had issues covering the Giants' receivers on deep routes, as feared. Eli Manning made a few perfect throws, but there were receivers open at critical times, including once when Mario Manningham couldn't quite catch up to what would have been the tying touchdown pass in the final minutes.
Versatility on offense: The 49ers put their tight ends' superior speed to good use. They lined up with two backs and two tight ends without sacrificing their ability to strike in the passing game. Delanie Walker caught six passes for 69 yards. Davis had three receptions for 40 yards and a touchdown. Walker's productivity had diminished in recent weeks with Braylon Edwards returning, but that changed in a big way Sunday. The 49ers completed only eight passes to wide receivers. The remaining 11 completed passes went to tight ends and backs.
Special-teams advantage: The 49ers' special teams continued to give San Francisco an edge. David Akers was automatic on field goal attempts. His surprise onside kick was also perfectly executed, and recovered by the 49ers.
What's next: The 49ers face the Arizona Cardinals at Candlestick Park in Week 11.