An Eli Manning touchdown pass to tight end Larry Donnell with 21 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter lifted the New York Giants to a 30-27 win over the San Francisco 49ers, ruining a resurgent performance from the maligned Colin Kaepernick.
Down 27-23 after a late Carlos Hyde touchdown and with his two top wideouts in Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle on the sideline for a key stretch of the game after suffering hamstring injuries, Manning drove the Giants 82 yards on eight plays, capping off the drive with a 12-yard strike to Donnell in the back of the end zone.
The NFL shared the replay:
Manning finished with a career-high 41 completions for 441 yards, three touchdowns and just one interception. His game-winning pass broke a franchise record, per SportsCenter:
Beckham was a nightmare for the 49ers secondary, catching seven passes for 121 yards and one touchdown despite being limited by his hamstring injury. Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News reported that Randle was out for the game with a hamstring injury of his own.
It was a disappointing display for the Niners pass defense, considering it managed to limit Aaron Rodgers to 224 yards through the air in a Week 4 loss to the Green Bay Packers. This stat from About.com's Connor Hughes pointed to a lack of pressure as the culprit:
After two straight weeks of horrid play (zero touchdowns, five interceptions), Kaepernick put in a solid shift, one that should satiate at least some Niners fans who were unhappy with his performance this year. He completed 23 of 35 passes for 262 yards and two scores, with both of them coming in the back-and-forth second half. Kaepernick did fumble twice, but neither resulted in a turnover.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller complimented his passing:
Hyde tallied 93 yards on 21 carries, a solid stat line considering the 49ers mustered just 34 yards on the ground as a team in the first half, with most of them coming from Kaepernick.
Whether it was the overall scheme, the supporting cast or Kaepernick's inability to find and make the big play, the Niners offense was underwhelming in the first 30 minutes. Kaepernick hardly threw the ball downfield, instead making the simple throw on a litany of screens, underneath routes and checkdowns.
Sports Illustrated's NFL Twitter account felt the 49ers' scheme had handcuffed Kaepernick:
Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle felt the Niners could have made better use of their weapons:
That all changed in the second half. Down 13-6 to start the third quarter, San Francisco engineered three scoring drives of at least 80 yards to keep pace with the Giants' own methodical attack. The Niners first tied the game at 13-13 early in the third after a three-yard strike to veteran wideout Anquan Boldin.
ESPN Stats & Info pointed out it was an important throw for the struggling quarterback:
The play was also noteworthy for ending an eight-quarter 49ers touchdown drought. Their last touchdown had come on a second-quarter Kaepernick run in a blowout loss to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3.
A 17-yard touchdown reception by Beckham late in the same quarter put the Giants back up, but the Niners made it 20-20 with an 11-play, 80-yard drive that ended in a touchdown pass to tight end Garrett Celek.
Here is Beckham's touchdown, per the NFL:
Hyde's two-yard touchdown plunge with 1:45 remaining came at the end of a seven-play, 80-yard drive that put the Niners on top.
It was fitting that Boldin—who caught eight passes for 107 yards—was a major part of Kaepernick's solid performance, as he maintained this week there was no animosity between him and his struggling QB and that his frustrations lay with the team's output as a whole, per Branch:
I don’t listen to what people say. People are going to come out with theories one way or the other. My job is to come out and play football. Me and Kap are on great terms. Our relationship hasn’t changed just because were not winning football games. I don’t have frustrations with Kap. I have frustrations with us as a team not doing what we’re capable of doing.
Niners linebacker NaVorro Bowman was huge for San Francisco. He racked up a game-high 13 solo tackles but was a culprit on Manning's first-half touchdown strike to Shane Vereen, per CSN Bay Area's Matt Maiocco:
Beckham had receptions of 31 and 49 yards in the first half, with both going a long way toward setting up Giants scores. The NFL shared a video of his 49-yard catch-and-run:
Kaepernick's display was solid, but with San Francisco now 1-4 on the year, the frustration is unlikely to dissipate. He looked uncomfortable in clean pockets at times, and the downfield passing game was missing in action.
The Giants are now 3-2 and first in the NFC East. The division is there for the taking, with Philadelphia and Washington uneven to start the season and Dallas' offense handicapped without Tony Romo and Dez Bryant.
A Week 6 Monday night date with the Eagles will be a major proving ground for the Giants. If Manning keeps up his stellar play, the Giants should have a chance at winning the division.
Giants head coach Tom Coughlin dedicated the game to tight end Daniel Fells, per the team's official Twitter account:
Fells is currently in the hospital fighting a nasty strain of MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. According to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, the bacterial infection in Fells' ankle has required five surgeries, and there are concerns he could lose his foot.
Niners head coach Jim Tomsula gave credit to Manning for making plays down the stretch, per the team's Twitter account:
Kaepernick remains optimistic that the 49ers can do better despite losing four games in a row:
A division title would seem to be nearly impossible, with the NFC West-leading Cardinals 4-1 after five games. The Niners do have opportunities to make up ground in the division soon, with two games against Seattle and one road date with St. Louis on the slate in their next five games.