Rookie Chris Borland capped a late gutsy goal-line stand with his second interception of the game and the 49ers beat the reeling Giants 16-10 on Sunday in a game in which New York threatened to win ugly but ultimately lost its fifth straight.
The defense was the difference for San Francisco (6-4). After giving up a touchdown on New York's opening possession, Borland and company held the Giants (3-7) to a field goal and made play after play when Eli Manning moved them into position.
"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 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 Larry 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.
"There's no give-up in our guys," said Borland, the first 49ers rookie with two picks in a game. He joined Ken Norton Jr. in 1995 as the only 49ers linebackers with two interceptions in a game over the past 40 years.
"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."
The Niners' offense wasn't very exciting despite holding the ball for almost 35 minutes. Its contribution against a Giants' defense that had given up 136 points in its last four games was a 48-yard touchdown pass from 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.
Frank Gore, whose fumble ended the 49ers opening drive, said the defense is stepping up to the plate.
"You know, they're playing great ball," said Gore, who ran for 95 yards. "I just feel like as an offense, once we start playing better in the second half, we can go a long way."
Manning threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to tight end Larry Donnell on New York's opening possession, but the Giants 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.
"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."
Some things we learned from the 49ers' second straight road win:
ALDON'S BACK: 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith returned after missing the first nine games because of a suspension. He didn't have a tackle but had two quarterback hits on Manning, who hit seven times and sacked twice.
"We made it hard for him," Smith said of Manning. "Making him uncomfortable in the pocket and moving him around, pressuring him from everywhere."
JENNINGS BACK: Giants No. 1 running back Rashad Jennings played for the first time since spraining a knee four games ago. He had 59 yards on 18 carries, but he was stuffed on a fourth and inches late in the third quarter at San Francisco 43.
OTHER TURNOVERS: Linebacker Michael Wilhoite, safety Eric Reid and cornerback Chris Culliver had the 49ers' other interceptions. The picks by Wilhoite at the San Francisco 14 in the second quarter and Culliver at the 49ers 20 came on plays in which Rueben Randle and Manning seemed to on different pages as far as the play call.
BYE BYE GIANTS: The 3-7 record is the Giants' worst after 10 games since 1998, when they were also 3-7 and finished 8-8. With losses to San Francisco, Seattle, Arizona, Detroit, Philadelphia and Dallas and Indianapolis, it seems New York will miss the playoffs for a third straight season.
UP NEXT: The 49ers will be home to face another NFC East team, the Washington Redskins, a 27-7 loser to the Bucs. The Giants are home again for a Sunday night game against the Dallas Cowboys, who are coming off a bye.
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