Eli Manning and the Giants finally got some fourth-quarter redemption of their own as Larry Donnell's incredible catch led New York to victory over the 49ers on Sunday night.
It could be argued that without the fourth quarter, the Giants would be 5-0 this season. They dropped their two losses in 2015 to the Cowboys and Falcons with fourth-quarter collapses, and in Big Blue's two wins, the Redskins and Bills looked to make things all too competitive near the end of the game. But on Sunday night against the 49ers at MetLife Stadium, the fourth quarter was finally a friend to Tom Coughlin's team as, right after the 49ers took a 27-23 lead with 1:45 left in the game, Eli Manning led the Giants to a touchdown drive of their own to steal the game right back and win 30-27.
Backed up at his own 18-yard line with receiver Rueben Randle out and Odell Beckham, Jr. hobbled by a hamstring injury, Manning nonetheless moved his team down the field. He threw a near-pick to cornerback Tramaine Brock—it was Manning's third almost-interception of the evening—but held it together. And after cornerback Kenneth Acker was busted for pass interference with 30 seconds left, the Giants found themselves at the San Francisco 12-yard line. One play later, Manning threw high to tight Larry Donnell over two San Francisco defenders, and Donnell made an amazing catch to decide the game.
“We just put it together,” Manning told NBC's MIchele Tafoya of that last drive. “We hit [running back} Shane Vereen on a few, and Larry in the green zone, and Odell came in on a special play, we had the pass interference, and we hit Larry on the post on the seam. It's something we'd worked on,a big target, and a big win today. I'm proud of the guys and the way we fought. We got that two-minute drive to go and win the game.
“This is special just because we've had come opportunities to win some games early in the season. We've had some two-minute opportunities, and we haven't been able to come through. Today, we came through. It's big for the offense, the young guys playing, the offensive line and the coaches, knowing we can get back to winning those types of games. It's a fun atmosphere, and a fun crowd, and a big win for the Giants.”
“It's a pretty big win for us,” an emotional Beckham Jr. said after. “We were able to put a full game together, and we were able to finish strong. It says a lot about this team.”
Tafoya asked Beckham why he was close to tears, and he responded, “I'm just happy we won. I'm just happy we won.”
It could indeed be seen as a great relief for the Giants, who move to the top of the NFC East with their 3-2 record. And though the 49ers were more impressive on both sides of the ball than they'd been since their season-opening win over the Vikings, they must now take a very long cross-country flight and wonder what could have been.
Three thoughts on this thrilling Sunday night game:
1. Eli Manning was good, but he was also lucky
Manning threw a record 41 completions on 54 attempts for 441 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, but as previously mentioned, his interception total could have been much higher. Safety Antoine Bethea nearly had a pick on a trap coverage concept, Acker nearly came up with one, and Brock's near-pick on that last drive was a heartbreaker for the 49ers. After Brock intercepted Manning on a horrible deep throw to Beckham at the end of the first half, the Giants got more conservative in their passing concepts, but still surprisingly stopped running the ball against San Francisco's vulnerable interior defensive line. Manning did enough to win, but he also did enough to lose, and there are things about his game that just pop up. Ball placement and accuracy are iffy things with Manning from time to time. But as he's proven so many times before, he has the selective amnesia required of any great quarterback, and the risky throw to Donnell to win the game was proof of that.
2. The 49ers had the right plan for Colin Kaepernick...some of the time
Kaepernick has played fairly horribly over the last month. He turned in performances that were poor enough for there to be some talk that he might be benched in favor of backup Blaine Gabbert. This week, offensive coordinator Geep Chryst said that he would change the schemes around to work more in Kaepernick's favor. At the start of this game, it didn't look much different. There were a couple of receiver screens and a couple of scrambles, but the overall game plan was predictable enough for the Giants to easily read where Kaepernick was throwing, and where Hyde was running.
In the second half, though, things did open up. Kaepernick made a few lovely throws with timing and rhythm, and he led his team on second-half touchdown drives of 88, 52, and 78 yards. There were times when Kaepernick resembled the quarterback who, under the tutelage of Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman, was just about unstoppable. And when Chryst set him up with defined openings in route concepts and quick open reads, that was a consistent factor. There were other times when it appeared the 49ers were determined to take away Kaepernick's two primary attributes—his deep ball off play action and his mobility—and that showed just as clearly. The team seems to be embroiled in a divide between what Kaepernick is and what they want him to be. He showed on this night that when you let him be what he is, he's pretty good: 23 of 35 passes completed for 262 yards and two touchdowns told the tale, but they couldn't win the game.
3. Even when he's hurt, Odell Beckham, Jr. is a scary individual
It was clear that the 49ers were afraid of Beckham's explosive playmaking ability. Whenever he caught the ball, he was surrounded by several defenders, and he proved to be an apt decoy, opening things up for other receivers. Beckham said after the game that he wasn't concerned about the hamstring injury he suffered on the 17-yard touchdown pass he took from Manning in the third quarter, and he was a major factor in taking coverage away on that last drive. Beckham finished with seven receptions for 121 yards and that touchdown, but his value was even more pronounced than the statistics showed.
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