Smith defensive gem lifts 49ers over Giants 27-20
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Statement game, you bet. Just what the San Francisco 49ers wanted to show they're a legitimate contender.
Justin Smith batted down Eli Manning's pass in the closing seconds of the New York quarterback's latest comeback try, and San Francisco stopped the Giants on fourth down for a 27-20 victory in Sunday's NFC showdown.
With his team trailing, Manning completed a pair of long fourth-down passes and got the Giants to the red zone with 1:53 to go. Unlike last week's rally by New York (6-3) at New England, Smith thwarted the final chance with a leaping right-handed smack of the ball on fourth-and-2 from the 10.
The 49ers (8-1) won this one without relying on star running back Frank Gore, whose franchise-record streak of five straight games with 100 yards rushing ended with a knee injury and his first career game with zero yards.
Jim Harbaugh's NFC West-leading Niners rolled off their seventh straight victory to extend their best start since 1997, and matched the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers for the most wins in the NFL.
Vernon Davis leaped from the 4-yard line over safety Kenny Phillips into the end zone to complete a go-ahead 31-yard touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter.
Kendall Hunter ran for a 27-yard touchdown in the fourth, moments after Carlos Rogers made his second interception of the day.
David Akers kicked four field goals, setting up one with a surprise onside kick, as the 49ers won their most meaningful home game at Candlestick Park since coming from 24 points down to stun the Giants 39-38 in the NFC wild-card game on Jan. 5, 2003.
That was one of the best comebacks in NFL playoff history and a monumental collapse for the Giants.
Alex Smith led the comeback this time after Manning threw a go-ahead 13-yard touchdown pass to Mario Manningham late in the third quarter. Manning then hit Hakeem Nicks for a 32-yard TD with 8:37 remaining before getting that last chance.
Manning completed an 18-yard pass to Manningham on fourth-and-6 and then a 10-yarder to Victor Cruz on fourth-and-5 on the last-ditch drive. Manning just overthrew Manningham in the end zone with 2:52 left.
While it's the 49ers defense that has been so dominant stopping the run — now 31 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher — the Giants had to think they had solved San Francisco by stopping Gore.
But Smith completed at least three passes to four different receivers, including tight end Delanie Walker's six receptions for 69 yards.
It was a day of defense. San Francisco had 77 total yards rushing to 93 for New York.
The first half featured seven possessions, five field goals and no punts.
Gore, the two-time Pro Bowler, already was nursing a tender right ankle that has bothered him on several occasions this season before hurting his knee Sunday and watching much of the second half in a red jacket on the sideline.
Gore has 7,196 yards rushing and needs 149 more to pass late Hall of Famer Joe Perry (7,344) for the most in franchise history.
Manning finished 26 for 40 for 311 yards and two TDs with two interceptions.