For the past two weeks, the 49ers had been the bullies of the NFL, outscoring their opponents 79-3 and looking like the league's best team.
Then, Sunday happened and the bullies got bullied.
The New York Giants pounded on the 49ers at Candlestick Park, using San Francisco’s own formula -- a strong running game, terrific pass rush, physical defense against the run and key takeaways – in a 26-3 victory that was far more dominant than the final score.
It was so bad that with a little more than 7 minutes remaining in the game many of the 49ers faithful started heading to the exits so they could get home in time to watch the first pitch of the San Francisco Giants' NLCS game against the Cardinals.
The 49ers, who seemed able to do everything right the past two weeks – and in four of their first five games – for the most part played out of character in falling flat in a highly touted rematch of last season’s NFC Championship Game.
In dropping to 4-2, San Francisco now trails the 5-1 Seahawks in the NFC West standings, with a showdown looming Thursday night at Candlestick.
But before they can get ready to face the Seahawks, they’ll have to figure out – and correct – what went wrong against the Giants.
Quarterback Alex Smith – who came into the game leading the NFL in quarterback rating – threw three interceptions in a game for the first time since October of 2010; Niners QBs were sacked six times while Giants QB Eli Manning wasn’t sacked once; the 49ers defense allowed an opposing running back (Ahmad Bradshaw, 116) to rush for more than 100 yards at Candlestick for the first time in 22 games; offensive tackle Joe Staley was lost to a concussion in the second half; normally reliable kicker David Akers missed two field-goal tries; and the 49ers offense, which so effectively had worked Colin Kaepernick into the mix as a wildcat quarterback, often appeared out of sync with him in the game.
In short, the 49ers looked totally overpowered for one of the few times since head coach Jim Harbaugh took over the team last season. It was, in fact the most lopsided loss the 49ers have had under his leadership.
The 49ers offense moved the ball well at the start of the game, with consecutive 12-play drives, but came away with just three points.
San Francisco took the opening kickoff and drove to the Giants 26, but Akers missed a 43-yard field goal try. After holding the Giants to a three-and-out, the Niners came back with another long drive, from their own 15 to the New York 24, from where Akers’ 42-yard field goal was good.
From there, it was all downhill.
Smith was intercepted on his team’s next possession and the Giants capitalized, driving 67 yards to a score on Manning’s 6-yard pass to Victor Cruz.
After leading 10-3 at the half, and scoring early in the third quarter on Bradshaw’s 1-yard TD run, the Giants converted a pair of Smith interceptions into two Lawrence Tynes field goals into a 23-3 lead going into the fourth quarter.
The Niners were never able to mount any momentum, and Tynes tacked on a 32-yard field goal late in the game for the 26-3 final margin of victory.
Now, the 49ers have just three days to prepare for the Seahawks – and to let their bruises (mental and physical) heal.