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What We Learned from 49ers vs. Giants

Posted Nov 16, 2014

The victory gave the 49ers back-to-back road wins to keep pace in the NFC playoff race. It also saw the debut of Aldon Smith, the shuffling of roles on both sides of the ball and five interceptions by San Francisco’s defense.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The San Francisco 49ers picked up an important November win on Sunday. The visiting team outlasted the New York Giants, 16-10, at MetLife Stadium to improve to 6-4 on the year.

The victory gave the 49ers back-to-back road wins to keep pace in the NFC playoff race. It also saw the debut of Aldon Smith, the shuffling of roles on both sides of the ball and five interceptions by San Francisco’s defense.

Here’s what we learned from the Week 11 contest. 

Crabtree Shows YAC Skills

The demise of Michael Crabtree’s play-making ability was greatly exaggerated.

Questions about the 49ers wideout’s yards-after-the-catch ability can hush down after his 48-yard touchdown reception from Colin Kaepernick in the third quarter. The impressive throw and catch was Kaepernick’s 17th consecutive game with a touchdown pass and Crabtree’s fourth touchdown grab of the year.

The 49ers wideout ran a slant, caught the ball 20 yards down the field and out-ran a trio of New York defensive backs to get into the end zone.

The scoring play put the 49ers up 16-7 with 11:38 left in the third quarter.

It also showed Crabtree’s big-play ability was alive and well.  Crabtree’s first three catches went for 85 yards, which was good for an 28.3 yards per catch average.

Giant Surprise

Bubba Ventrone was caught in a tough predicament. After Giants kicker Josh Brown kicked a 43-yard field goal to make it a 16-10 game in favor of San Francisco in the third quarter, the New York special teamer surprised the 49ers with an onside kick.

Ventrone, San Francisco’s own special teams ace, was closest to the onside kick. He tried to recover the ball but it was ripped away from him. He never fully had possession of the ball. Brown, the kicker, was credited with the forced fumble.

Jim Harbaugh challenged the ruling on the field, but officials ruled it to be a fumble and Giants football at their own 46-yard line midway through the third quarter.

New York, however, was unable to capitalize. Eli Manning was intercepted for the third time by San Francisco’s stingy defense.

Early Turnover Leads to New York TD

Frank Gore fumbled on San Francisco’s opening drive on New York’s 16-yard line. A productive, 63-yard drive to start the game came to an end when the stalwart running back slipped in the backfield and lost control of the football as his body crashed on top of fullback Bruce Miller’s heel.

It was Gore’s first fumble of the season.

The Giants capitalized on the turnover with a five-play, 63-yard scoring drive. Manning completed all three pass attempts and picked on 49ers linebacker Michael Wilhoite for a 19-yard touchdown pass to tight end Larry Donnell, who ran freely up the right hash-marks for an easy score.

Adversity reared its ugly head early in New Jersey. The Giants took their only lead of the game, but the 49ers were able to respond with three consecutive Phil Dawson field goals to go ahead.

It was a good sign that San Francisco was able to rally from a shaky start on the road.

Borland Intercepts Manning...

As for the aforementioned five interceptions, Chris Borland got the pick-party started. The rookie linebacker recorded his first career interception on a second-quarter Manning pass intended for Odell Beckham Jr. Borland recorded another first against a Manning. He recorded his first NFL sack against Peyton Manning in Week 7.

After the turnover, Dawson connected on a 44-yard field goal to give the 49ers a 9-7 lead with 7:29 left in the second quarter.

... so Does Wilhoite

Wilhoite recorded San Francisco’s second takeaway of the game. He was also the second 49ers inside linebacker to intercept Manning. The Giants quarterback turned the ball over in the red zone on a short pass that was underthrown to his intended target. Wilhoite was dropping into coverage when Manning’s throw came towards his right hip.

Wilhoite made the catch falling to the ground and gave San Francisco a huge momentum boost with 4:34 left in the first half. Though Wilhoite got beat in coverage a few times, he made a game-changing play to help the 49ers sustain a first-half lead over the Giants.

... and Reid

Eric Reid recorded the third interception of Manning in the third quarter. The Giants quarterback airmailed his intended target and the 49ers safety was in the perfect place to haul in the errant pass. The only negative of the play, Reid’s 50-plus yard return was wiped out by a block in the back penalty.

Despite the foul, Reid’s good hands helped the 49ers erase a surprise onside kick recovery from the Giants.

... and Culliver

With the Giants driving midway through the final period, Chris Culliver intercepted Manning at San Francisco’s 21-yard line.

Culliver immediately pointed to Jim Harbaugh and handed him the ball in celebration.

... and Borland Again

With the 49ers up by six and under five minutes to play in the fourth quarter, Borland recorded his second pick and the defense's fifth of the day on a crucial 4th-and-goal for New York.

After successfully defending three consecutive fade routes for would-be go-ahead touchdowns, the San Francisco secondary batted up Manning's fourth-down pass and Borland came down with the interception.

Aldon Makes Anticipated Debut

New York’s third drive of the game, first of the second quarter, Smith entered on first down as the right outside linebacker. He played two snaps, was subbed out in favor of Aaron Lynch on third down, and came back in the game after the Giants converted a 3rd-and-short play.

Smith stayed on the field for New York’s fourth possession. He lined up at right outside linebacker. Lynch lined up in place of Ahmad Brooks as San Francisco’s left outside ‘backer.

For the rest of the second quarter, Smith and Lynch were the 49ers outside pass-rushers. Brooks was not in the game and did not return in the second half.

The Smith-Lynch tandem finished the rest of the way.

Lynch also sacked Manning to end New York’s first possession of the second half. The vicious takedown was Lynch’s third sack of his NFL career.

Smith finished the game with two quarterback hits. It was a solid debut for Smith, who was able to draw holding penalties and attract numerous New York blockers. Smith’s return is a great luxury for San Francisco in the home stretch of the regular season. He proved it on Sunday. 

Same Players, Different Roles

Quinton Dial, in his first NFL start at nose tackle, forced pressure on Manning’s first incompletion of the game. The second-year defensive lineman beat his man and was close to Manning, causing a quick release on a downfield incompletion to Donnell.

Donate Johnson entered the game at nickel cornerback. Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver remained as perimeter defenders in the 49ers three-receiver defense. Craig Dahl entered the game as San Francisco’s fourth cornerback in dime personnel.

Vernon Davis took a hand-off, but the play was wiped out because of a holding call on Stevie Johnson

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