Jim Harbaugh had no shortage of words before his 49ers faced the New York Giants again. After the Niners had been smashed more than they ever had in his tenure, the second-year coach kept his comments to a minimum.
“It wasn’t a great day for any of us,” he said.
Alex Smith threw three interceptions in his worst start in almost three years, and the 49ers fell 26-3 to the Giants on Sunday at Candlestick Park in a rematch of last season’s NFC Championship Game.
“They’re the defending Super Bowl champs,” Smith said. “So any time you’re playing them, it’s a chance to say something and we didn’t get it done today.”
Not even close.
Antrel Rolle intercepted two passes by Smith, Prince Amukamara picked off another and the Giants shut down San Francisco in impressive fashion. After outscoring the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets by a combined 79-3 the last two weeks, the 49ers (4-2) met their match again with Eli Manning and New York’s top team.
No overtime needed this time, and not much of Manning, either.
Manning threw for 193 yards and one touchdown, Bradshaw ran for 116 yards and a score and New York (4-2) rode a dominant defense and four fields by Lawrence Tynes to hand Harbaugh the most lopsided loss since last season’s 16-6 loss at brother John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving night.
San Francisco had not allowed a 100-yard rusher in the previous 22 home games.
“Plan-wise, it wasn’t the right one,” Harbaugh said. “You try to figure out what the next one will be, but a tough loss for us, and we have to bounce back fast.”
Indeed, no time for San Francisco to sulk. The 49ers host Seattle on Thursday and they’ll have to find a way to correct a wave of mistakes.
The Giants grinded out a 20-17 overtime win at rain-soaked Candlestick Park on Jan. 22, capitalizing on two fumbles punts by Kyle Williams en route to another Super Bowl title over the Patriots. All week, some San Francisco players talked about “unfinished business,” and Harbaugh added to the hype when he fired back a strongly worded statement criticizing Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, who had said All-Pro defensive end Justin Smith often “gets away with murder” holding linemen.
For all the hoopla, the rematch was never close.
Amukamara’s interception in the second quarter started a surge of New York offense. Smith, who wore tape around his sprained middle finger that he said wasn’t an issue, lofted the pass too high and allowed Amukamara to leap underneath the ball before tight end Delanie Walker even had a chance at the Giants 33.
At one point in the first half, Manning completed eight consecutive passes for 142 yards and had the usually stout San Francisco defense out of sorts. Domenik Hixon tip-toed the sideline to catch passes of 39 and 16 yards on consecutive third downs, and Victor Cruz followed with a 6-yard touchdown reception and his usual salsa dance in the end zone to give the Giants a 7-3 lead in the second quarter.
“The statement made,” Cruz said, “is that we’re here to stay.”