Eli Manning had the Giants on the march to a potential game-tying score in the final minutes of their Week 10 game at San Francisco, but the rally ended with a batted-down pass on fourth down.
Through three quarters in Week 10, the visiting New York Giants held a 13-12 lead over the San Francisco 49ers. San Francisco’s offense scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, and a potentially game-tying drive fell just short when the Giants couldn’t convert a 4th-and-2 from the 49ers’ 10.
How did San Francisco win, at the time its seventh straight victory? What ultimately left the Giants short? And most important, how much of it is applicable to Sunday’s NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park?
• With 14:20 left, the 49ers faced a 3rd-and-2 from the Giants’ 42. Before the ball was snapped, tight end Delanie Walker stood up in an apparent shift and drew linebacker Dave Tollefson off side. The Giants defense committed 47 drive-extending penalties on third or fourth down in the Tom Coughlin era from 2004-10, the fifth-lowest total in the league. However, this season they committed 10 drive-extending penalties on third and fourth down, tying for 17th.
• Later in that drive, Alex Smith hit Vernon Davis for a 31-yard TD pass. The Giants sent five pass rushers and rookie linebacker Greg Jones, who was replacing the injured Michael Boley, left Davis wide open.
• Eli Manning and Mario Manningham crossed signals on the Giants’ next possession. Manning threw into a sea of defenders over the middle while Manningham broke off his route. Carlos Rogers secured his second interception of the game, both coming on throws 15 or more yards downfield. It gave the 49ers the ball at New York’s 17, and Kendall Hunter scored on the next play.
• Down 14 after a two-point conversion, the Giants completed three of four straight attempts at least 13 yards downfield, culminating in a 32-yard touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks. Their defense forced a three-and-out, and Manning got the ball back with 6:35 left. He drove the Giants from their 25 to the San Francisco 10, almost tied the game on a 41-air-yard throw that just missed Manningham, then had his fourth-down pass batted down by Justin Smith to settle the game.
What the Giants can do:
Alex Smith By Pass Rushers This Season
• Stick with four or fewer pass rushers for two reasons. First, it’s what the Giants do well -- only Philadelphia (38) had more sacks than New York’s 34 when sending four or fewer pass rushers. And the Giants tied for fifth with 15 interceptions using four or fewer rushers. On the other side, Smith was markedly better this season against extra defensive pressure.
• Vertical passing is a big part of what the Giants do. Manning attempted a league-high 161 throws of at least 15 yards during the season. However, the 49ers defense led the league with a -8 touchdown-interception differential on throws at least 15 yards downfield. New York likely will still try to throw deep, but Manning must pick his spots carefully.
• To throw deep, Manning will need time. That will be tough against San Francisco. New York’s first two postseason opponents ranked 17th (Atlanta) and 30th (Green Bay) in sacking or putting quarterbacks under duress. The 49ers, however, had the fifth-best total in the league. The Giants should particularly worry about Aldon Smith. He’s not an every-down player, but his 26.4 dropbacks per sack trailed only Jason Babin among players who saw 200 dropbacks.