Bills vs. 49ers: Final Game Grades, Analysis for San Francisco
While the 49ers dropped an overtime heartbreaker to the Giants last January in the NFC Championship Game, the rematch was a downer of a different kind, as the defending champion Giants wrested control midway through the second quarter and never looked back, scoring 26 unanswered points in their 26-3 rout.
The Niners came into the game talking big and bent on revenge, but all their domination of the opening 15 minutes earned them was a fleeting 3-0 lead, thanks to stalls inside New York's 30-yard-line and a missed David Akers field goal.
Once Eli Manning discovered he'd have considerably more time to operate in the pocket than last season's playoff game, in which he was hounded for six sacks and hit more often than a pinata, he connected with a trio of talented wideouts to engineer a touchdown drive and a field goal, going into the half with a 10-3 lead.
The Giants tacked on another score, by RB Ahmad Bradshaw, capitalizing on David Wilson's 66-yard kickoff return to open the second half, and three more Lawrence Tynes field goals, the first couple after interceptions by S Antrel Rolle.
Niners QB Alex Smith had an awful game with three picks, the play-calling was sloppy and unfocused, and no one on either side of the ball did much to pick up the slack.
It was an eye-opener for a team that had won their past two games by an aggregate score of 79-3. The Giants won the Lombardi Trophy last year, and they're not going anywhere.
Alex Smith: F
Smith finished 19-of-30, for 200 yards on the nose, no touchdowns, three interceptions, and a 43.1 passer rating, with his numbers looking particularly gruesome if you take out the opening quarter.
He was playing behind the chains a lot in the second half, always forced to look intermediate-to-long instead of his preferred short-to-intermediate, and the Giants' front four imposed their will more and more as the afternoon went on.
Also, while Smith will never say it publicly and probably not even privately, I believe having to check out at random intervals in favor of Colin Kaepernick is starting to wear on him. There have just been more negative plays in that package than positive ones, and this offense isn't built to overcome any setbacks, whether they be sacks, penalties, what have you.
The Seahawks have a great defense, but it should be beneficial to Smith to face a familiar opponent on a short week, and with less time to game plan, he figures to have more of an influence on the game plan.
Colin Kaepernick: C
The second-year man completed 4-of-7 passes for 82 yards and a 98.5 rating, with his best play a 38-yard laser to Mario Manningham right before half, which led to a missed David Akers field goal attempt.
Kaepernick shuttled in and out of the game all afternoon, particularly in the second half, and it was a disservice to him, to Alex Smith, and to the offense as a whole. You just can't have sustained success operating an offense this way. If it was possible, it would've been done by now.
Kaepernick will be handed the keys eventually, but it's not his time yet and Smith deserves better treatment than this.
Frank Gore: C
Gore is starting to get used to not playing much in the second halves of games, but it's hard to imagine he'll be happy with today's sequence of events, where he was completely phased out once the Giants took a 10-3 lead late in the second quarter.
Gore had 36 yards on eight carries and caught a season-high four passes for 20 more yards, but his true value relies in getting a chance to wear down opposing defenses late in games. With the Niners being involved in blowouts one way or the other this past month, he's not getting a chance to do that.
Kendall Hunter: B
Hunter is another guy who was criminally underused against the Giants, with just four carries for 26 yards, and one would think he'll be a big part of the game plan on Thursday, to save the wear-and-tear on Gore.
He needs to be more involved as a receiver, as he's got some skills in the screen game.
Bruce Miller: B-
Blocked well when he had the chance, but wasn't out there much in the second half.
Michael Crabtree: C-
Had a bit more success this time around against the Giants with three grabs for 26 yards, but they continue to be a nemesis for him, as he just can't gain any separation at all against a seemingly ordinary collection of DBs that have gotten toasted by plenty of random guys around the league.
Mario Manningham: B+
Had a team-leading five grabs for 72 yards and almost pulled in what would've been a sensational diving catch of an Alex Smith bomb down the right sideline. Manningham had his man beat by two steps and the pass should've been a touchdown.
With Eli Manning, it would've been.
Randy Moss: B+
Our first real signs of life from Moss since Week 3 at Minnesota, as he caught an early 20-yard pass on a crossing route and then went deep for a 55-yard bomb from Smith early in the fourth quarter.
Moss can still run pretty fast on a straight line, and one can hope he'll get more of an opportunity to do it in the coming weeks.
Kyle Williams: B-
Caught four passes for 40 yards, but nothing of the game-changing variety. It seems a blessing and a curse that the receiving corps are so interchangeable, as there's no one guy to rely on week after week.
Vernon Davis: C-
Finished with a quiet three grabs for 37 yards, as Giants LB Michael Boley did a great job on him throughout the game and had plenty of help deep.
Davis hasn't scored in the past three games after connecting with Smith four times in the first three contests. In the first quarter the offense was another first down away from getting into the area of the field where they look for him on the play-action.
Delanie Walker: F
Smith's first interception was on a deep pass to Walker where the veteran tight end let CB Prince Amukamara undercut him and Walker had another stone cold drop in the second half. His hands have been awful all year, and it's a real problem at this stage.
Garrett Celek: C-
The rookie free agent had a drop of his own, but caught a short pass for six yards as well. Didn't have a chance to block too much.
Joe Staley: B
Was the team's best lineman by far in the first half, but missed the second with a concussion and it seems a reach to think he'll be ready to play against Seattle on Thursday.
Mike Iupati: C
The team ran successfully behind him early, but once they quit being balanced, his effectiveness waned. The Giants zoned blitzed him a couple of times, with success.
Jonathan Goodwin: C
Generally did a good job of keeping the pocket from collapsing in Smith's face, but he wore down by the end too.
Alex Boone: D
A learning experience for Boone in his first season as a starter. Gave up a sack in his usual right guard position and then another when he switched to left tackle in relief of Staley.
Anthony Davis: D
Had been having a stellar year, but was beaten for a pair of sacks by Jason Pierre-Paul, with his quarterbacks doing him no favors by holding onto the ball an extra beat.
Leonard Davis: D-
Checked in at right guard once Boone had to slide over to left tackle and was horrible, as he has been all season whenever he's played. Davis was a great player once, but he's done.
Justin Smith: C-
Was in on eight stops, but he’s still stuck on the bagel in the sack column and it’s officially time to panic that maybe, at 33, that the ol’ “Cowboy” has lost one step too many. He uses his strength well on the run, but he hardly ever pressures the quarterback anymore, and he gets noticeably worn down in fourth quarters now if he has to play the whole game. The Niners’ lack of depth along the front is hurting him.
Ray McDonald: D
He had the game of his life against the Giants in last year’s NFC Championship Game, with 2.5 sacks. He was completely invisible on this afternoon, and has had two down games in a row.
Isaac Sopoaga: D-
He’s paid to hold the point against the run. The Giants have run for over 160 yards. This isn’t complicated. Ex-49er C David Baas bullied him around.
NaVorro Bowman: B-
Started like a house of fire and was in half of the team’s first dozen tackles, but eventually he got worn down, as did the rest of the defense, and he lost the will to chase down Ahmad Bradshaw.
Patrick Willis: C+
Willis had a pair of terrific efforts in a row against the New York Jets and Buffalo, but today was a step back, as he had virtually no impact on the game beyond the half-dozen routine stops. He and Bowman need to blitz more to jumpstart the pass-rush.
Aldon Smith: D
Had a couple of open-field stops, but was a non-factor as a pass-rusher, and spent most of the second half watching teammates tackle Bradshaw after half-heartedly setting the edge.
Ahmad Brooks: C-
Chased down Manning from the backside to prevent a third quarter touchdown and had a couple of other pressures, but Brooks did little of note and they ran his way quite a bit.
Carlos Rogers: D
Gave up six grabs for 58 yards and a touchdown to Victor Cruz and dropped a pick right in his hands that could’ve been a touchdown.
Tarell Brown: C-
Gave up a couple of big completions to Hakeem Nicks in the second quarter and was whistled for a pass interference call too. His highlight was a blocked field goal.
Chris Culliver: C
Had been having one of the best seasons of any corner in the league, but unheralded Domenik Hixon got the better off him on Sunday. Culliver's coverage wasn't even that bad. Manning just had some outstanding throws and Hixon made a couple of acrobatic catches.
Donte Whitner: C+
Held his own against Giants TE Martellus Bennett, but Manning was mostly looking elsewhere. Didn't make his presence felt in the box against the run much.
Dashon Goldson: C
A blah game from Goldson. He didn't do anything of note, but didn't really have a chance to either. Should ask to blitz more.
David Akers: D
Missed two of three field goals, including a 43-yarder. Had a chance to send the team into the locker room at half with a 52-yard field goal, but it missed and the second half was never competitive. Had some poor kickoffs too.
Andy Lee: B+
Averaged 49.8 yards on four punts and is among the candidates for the team's best player on Sunday. It's never good when the punter is up for that honor.
Brian Jennings: A-
It always looks perfect, but maybe his snaps are a hair off. There has to be some explanation for Akers' misses, right? Maybe Lee's injured thumb?
Ted Ginn: C
Averaged an ordinary 11 yards on a pair of punt returns. Wasn't needed much outside of the opening quarter.
Kyle Williams: C-
Averaged 19.3 yards on six kickoff returns. Two points here: One, it's not good when a kick returner gets six chances in one game. Two, he needs to take it down a notch and not try to bring back everything. He's doing nobody any good averaging less than 25.
The game plan started out ambitious, quickly turned panicky and finished the game in a daze, randomly substituting their two quarterbacks in and out of the huddle, in a fashion far more haphazard than anything Mike Singletary engaged in with Troy Smith, Shaun Hill, David Carr or any other of Alex Smith's cadre of journeyman backups.
Simply put, the 49ers only had a 3-0 lead to show for their domination of the first quarter, and had no answers on either side of the ball once the Giants landed their first haymaker in the second quarter.
The play-calling was one-dimensional, the insistence on using Colin Kaepernick regardless of score or situation was infuriating, and the team's lack of fight in the garbage fourth quarter was embarrassing.
The pugnacious Jim Harbaugh was full of fury on Friday, lashing out against a Giants assistant after an innocuous comment, but he'd be better served sticking to the balanced approach that made him successful than shooting credit card commercials.
There's no denying that the Niners just don't have the pass rush on defense that they had last season, and it's hurting the team's ability to collect turnovers and operate in short fields. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has to be more aggressive, particularly against strong opposing front lines.
On offense the Niners need to dial back their wildcat, use the run to set-up the play-action, and find a way to get the explosive Kendall Hunter more involved in the game plan.
Finally, Harbaugh has to operate with a speck of objectivity and quit acting like every single call is going against his team. His challenge of Ahmad Bradhaw non-fumble was pointless and wasteful, a no-chance call all the way. If he wanted to call a time out there, just call one. Don't waste the referee's time. It's against the spirit of the challenge rule to throw the red flag on a prayer and it invites future animosity from the zebras.