San Francisco 49ers: Winners and Losers from the Game vs. New York Giants
Although the 49ers beat the Giants in the regular season last year, the Giants got the last laugh, as they vanquished the 49ers in the NFC championship game. That victory by the Giants earned them a trip to the Super Bowl, where they ultimately defeated the New England Patriots for the world championship.
The 49ers felt they should have been there, and it's Super Bowl or bust for this year's team. In 2011, it took two special teams blunders by Kyle Williams to eventually give the Giants the win in overtime.
The 49ers were out to rinse some of that bitter taste from their mouths and show the football world that last year's success was no fluke. Unfortunately, the 49ers were outplayed in every phase of the game and fell to the Giants, 26-3.
Let's take a closer look at some of the key 49ers who were "winners or losers" in today's contest.
Brandon Jacobs: Loser
The San Francisco 49ers acquired former New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs this offseason. Jacobs was signed as a free agent, and his role was to be that of a short-yardage back.
Unfortunately for Jacobs, he hurt his knee in the exhibition season and has yet to play in a regular season game. Jacobs commented to the media that he felt healthy and ready to play two weeks ago. He went on to say that he was frustrated that he wasn't being given the chance.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh faces a bit of a dilemma here. The 49ers running game has been very good, with 981 yards rushing in six games. Against the Giants, the 49ers rushed for 80 yards on 17 carries, a 4.7 yards-per-carry average.
In addition, if the 49ers activated Jacobs, they would need to remove another player from the 47-man active roster on game day. This would most likely be running back Anthony Dixon, who is a good special teams player.
The other option would be to deactivate another special teams player, most likely a defensive back. However, the 49ers' coverage units have been quite shaky this year, so it's unlikely Harbaugh or special teams coach Brad Seely will do anything to weaken them.
Jacobs does not play on special teams, and with such a limited role as a running back, he is the odd man out. The 49ers are basically keeping Jacobs around as insurance should another running back get injured.
Kyle Williams: Winner
Kyle Williams was the most vilified player on the 49ers team following the 2011 loss in the NFC title game. His two turnovers on punt return plays gave the New York Giants all they needed to beat the 49ers in a hard-fought battle.
To his credit, Williams stood up to all the media and fan criticism and dedicated himself this offseason to working hard and becoming a better player. Williams looks stronger and less frail out on the field.
Williams earned his roster spot, which was no guarantee after the 2011 season. The 49ers brought in free agents Randy Moss and Mario Manningham to go along with incumbent wide receivers Michael Crabtree, Ted Ginn, Brett Swain, Joe Hastings and Williams.
The competition at wide receiver didn't end there. The 49ers drafted A.J. Jenkins with their first-round draft selection and also brought in undrafted free agents Chris Owusu and Nathan Palmer.
The competition for the six jobs at the wide receiver spot was fierce, but Williams clearly showed he deserved to be on the 49ers roster.
In today's game, Williams caught four passes for 40 yards. He also handled six kickoff returns flawlessly, returning the ball for 116 yards.
Williams is a "winner" today because his mere presence on the field shows his character and work ethic.
Kick Return Coverage: Loser
I am on record as saying that the 49ers' coverage units might cost them a game. They may not have cost the 49ers the win, but they certainly didn't help the cause.
With the score 10-3 at the half, the 49ers kicked off to open the third quarter. A defensive stand would have given the 49ers some excellent momentum. Unfortunately, Giants return man David Wilson broke through the middle and returned the kickoff 66 yards to the 49ers' 32-yard line.
The Giants would go on to score a touchdown and take a commanding 17-3 lead. The 49ers could never get the momentum back, and the game was over.
Colin Kaepernick: Winner
Colin Kaepernick saw his most significant action of the year. He ran several "wild-kap" plays, but also played a significant amount in the 49ers' core offense.
Kaepernick gained some valuable experience, which will help him to become a better quarterback, in the future. He completed four of seven pass attempts for 82 yards. Kaepernick also rushed for six yards on two carries.
Kaepernick had some fine moments, including his 36-yard completion to Mario Manningham. This play gave the 49ers a chance to kick a field goal to end the first half. Unfortunately, David Akers missed the kick.
There were some mistakes Kaepernick made also, which showed his lack of experience. After Alex Smith completed a 55-yard pass to Randy Moss, Kaepernick was inserted into the game. He failed to unload the ball under a heavy pass rush and was sacked for an 11-yard loss. You simply cannot take a sack in that situation.
The experience that Kaepernick gained will hopefully make him a better player when he gets his next opportunity.
Offensive Line: Loser
The San Francisco 49ers offensive line got off to a good start early in the game, as they helped the offense engineer two long drives. Unfortunately, the 49ers could only muster three points, and the line gradually faded under the tough New York defense.
The 49ers rushed for only 80 yards, their lowest total of the season. Their 4.7 yards-per-carry average was good, but because the 49ers were playing catch-up, they did not run the ball as often as they would have liked.
The problem that befell the offensive line was in pass protection. The Giants powered through and around the 49ers line and sacked Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick a total of six times. The Giants defensive line took control of the line of scrimmage and made the 49ers' quarterbacks very uncomfortable, especially after those first two drives.
If the 49ers are to do better this coming Thursday against the Seattle Seahawks, a team with a strong defensive front, the offensive line must play better.
Mario Manningham: Winner
Mario Manningham was signed as a free agent after spending the first four years of his career with the New York Giants. Manningham has moved into a starting role with the 49ers and is developing chemistry with Alex Smith.
Against his former team, Manningham led the 49ers with five pass receptions for 72 yards. He also carried the ball once on an end-around for seven yards.
Manningham performed well, and we should continue to see his role expand within the 49ers offense.
Alex Smith: Loser
Alex Smith had easily his worst game of the year for the 49ers. Although he completed a respectable 19 or 30 passes for 200 yards, Smith could not get the 49ers into the end zone.
Smith also uncharacteristically threw three interceptions, two to Antrel Rolle. Under head coach Jim Harbaugh, Smith has done a great job of not turning over the football. However, after throwing only five picks all of last year, Smith already has four through only the first six games of the 2012 season.
Coming into the game against the Giants, Smith led the league with a 108.8 passer rating. His rating for this game was only 43.1, his lowest of the season by far.
If the 49ers hope to make the playoffs in the tough NFC West and advance through the playoffs, Smith will need to play much better than he did today.
The 49ers Will Face Seattle on Thursday Night
The Seattle Seahawks are coming to San Francisco to face the 49ers on Thursday night. This will be the Niners' first division game.
The Seahawks are coming off a thrilling, come-from-behind victory against the New England Patriots. They feature a strong, physical defense, much like the New York Giants.
Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson leads the Seahawks offense, which also features running back Marshawn Lynch and receivers Sydney Rice and Doug Baldwin.
It will be tough for both teams, coming off today's game and having to play in only four days. I personally believe that any team playing on a Thursday night should get its bye week the week before.
This is a crucial division game, and for both teams to have to play with only three days in between their last contest is simply unfair to both clubs.
The 49ers will face a stern test with the staunch Seattle defense and its young, explosive offense. They must play a lot better than they did against the Giants if they hope to come away with a win.