EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Every time the San Francisco offense opened the door for the reeling New York Giants, the 49ers' defense closed it.
Rookie linebacker Chris Borland intercepted a fourth-down pass by Eli Manning at the 49ers 2 with 4:43 to play to cap a goal-line stand and San Francisco defeated New York 16-10 Sunday, sending the error-plagued Giants to their fifth straight loss.
“There's no give-up in our guys,” said Borland, who had two of the five interceptions by the 49ers (6-4). “We have guys, veterans, who have been there a lot. When it was going tough, we just pressed on and kept looking forward. Back-to-back wins on the road, we're all excited.”
It should have been a lot easier. San Francisco had almost 35 minutes in time of possession and five takeaways, but it had to sweat out a first-and-goal from its 4 to win.
Blame that on the 49ers' offense. Its contribution against a Giants defense that had given up 136 points in its last four games was a 48-yard touchdown pass from Colin Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree and three first-half field goals by Phil Dawson.
A possible fourth field goal was lost when holder Andy Lee could not catch a snap on a day that 49ers special teams also allowed New York to recover an onside kick.
“It was a spectacular performance by our defense today,” San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh said. “So many guys stepped up and played great, living in the moment and competing like the dickens and making tremendous and athletic football plays.”
The game also marked the return of 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith, who was active for the first time after missing the first nine games because of a suspension.
Manning threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to tight end Larry Donnell on New York's opening possession, but the Giants (3-7) only got a field goal from Josh Brown the rest of the way. After throwing six interceptions in the Giants' first nine games, Manning nearly equaled that number while tying a single-game career high against the 49ers.
“We made it hard for him,” Smith said of Manning, who was hit twice by the linebacker. “Making him uncomfortable in the pocket and moving him around, pressuring him from everywhere.”
The game was decided in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter when Manning drove the Giants from their 35 to the San Francisco 4, where they had a first-and-goal following a spectacular 37-yard leaping catch by rookie Odell Beckham Jr. over Perrish Cox.
Three fade patterns to Beckham, Rueben Randle and Donnell fell incomplete. Manning tried to force a pass to Preston Parker on fourth down, but Dontae Johnson tipped the ball and Borland came up with his second pick.
“Four shots from the 4-yard line – it's inexcusable that we didn't score,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said.
New York had a chance to take the lead earlier in the quarter, driving to the San Francisco 32. On a second-and-5, Manning and his receiver seemed a little out of synch and Chris Culliver intercepted the pass near the 10.
“I have to make better throws,” said Manning, who finished 22 of 45 for 280 yards. “It's no one else's fault. I've got to protect the ball and not turn it over. I turned it over close a couple of times and that can't happen.”
Michael Wilhoite and Eric Reid also intercepted Manning.
The Giants' opening drive kept them in the game. After recovering a fumble by Frank Gore (19 rushes for 95 yards) at the Giants 37, Manning capped a five-play drive with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Donnell. It marked the first time in 20 games that New York scored a touchdown on its opening drive.
After three field goals by Dawson, San Francisco stretched the lead to 16-7 early in the third quarter when Kaepernick (15 of 29 for 193 yards) found Crabtree across the middle and the receiver outran five defenders for a 48-yard catch-and-run.
“We're trying to take advantage of the opportunities that we have,” Kaepernick said. “We know our backs are against the wall. We have to play every week like it's our last game.”
Brown narrowed the gap to 16-10 with a 43-yard field goal midway through the third quarter and New York seemingly got a boost when it recovered the ensuing onside kick. However, the offense faltered and New York did not make the plays down the stretch.
NOTES: Randle led the Giants with seven catches for 112 yards, while Beckham had six for 93 yards. … Giants halfback Rashad Jennings played for the first time since spraining his knee in early October and had 59 yards on 18 carries. … Borland had a team-high 12 tackles and also defended three passes. … Giants LB Jameel McClain had a game-high 14 tackles. … Borland and Wilhoite are the first two 49ers linebackers to make interceptions in the same game since Nov. 12, 1995, when Rickey Jackson and Lee Woodall did it against Dallas.