49ers vs. Giants: Thumbs up and thumbs down

Willis breathed fire, but SF couldn't keep it up

Which way does the thumb turn for the 49ers after their 26-3 loss to the New York Giants, including a manhandling in the trenches, the worst showing of the Harbaugh era, Alex Smith crashing back to earth, surrendering the early upper hand, David Akers off target, a concussed Joe Staley, no trips to the red zone, WRs Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, CB Chris Culliver and much more? Check inside.

Thumbs down: By far the worst loss of the Jim Harbaugh era coming the week after two of the most lopsided victories of the Harbaugh era? Who saw this one coming in the 49ers' much-anticipated rematch with the team they should have beaten in the NFC Championship Game nine months ago?

Thumbs down: The 49ers pride themselves on being a physical team up front, but they were manhandled in the trenches on both sides of the ball, particularly on the offensive side, where New York held a decided edge that just grew wider as the game progressed and San Francisco fell behind.

Thumbs down: So much for being the NFL's top-rated quarterback. Alex Smith came crashing back to earth after entering Sunday's game with a league-best 108.7 passer rating. Smith was harassed all day and had to throw the ball quickly against a New York defense that sacked him four times and intercepted him three times, and the 49ers never would be the same after Smith's first pick early in the second quarter changed the complexion of the game.

Thumbs down: How's this for surrendering the upper hand: The 49ers outgained the Giants 120-25 in total yardage in the first quarter and appeared to be dominating despite turning that advantage into only a 3-0 lead. The G-men then turned the tables in a big way in the second quarter, outgaining the 49ers 174-53 on their way to taking a 10-3 halftime lead.

Thumbs down: And surrendering a 66-yard return of the second-half kickoff to the Giants' David Wilson certainly was no way to get the momentum back.

Thumbs up: The best sequence of plays for the 49ers – and there wasn't many – clearly came in the final 15 seconds of the first half, when Tarell Brown vaulted in from the edge to block Lawrence Tynes' 40-yard field goal attempt, then Colin Kaepernick unhinged a 36-yard bullet pass to Mario Manningham on the next play to set up a field-goal attempt with three seconds remaining in the half.

Thumbs down: But then came another harbinger of how this afternoon would turn out: David Akers was wide left on the ensuing kick from 52 yards out. Akers also was wide right on a 43-yard attempt to leave the 49ers with nothing to show for their game-opening 12-play, 59-yard drive. Akers now has five missed field goals in San Francisco's first six games.

Thumbs down: After rolling to a franchise-record 621 yards of offense and scoring 45 points last week, the Niners couldn't even make it into the red zone Sunday, when their deepest penetration ended at the New York 24-yard line.

Thumbs down: Chris Culliver has been more than solid as a cover corner on the edge when the Niners go to five defensive backs, but he looked pretty bad stutter-stopping with the ball in the air to allow Domenik Hixon to beat him for a 39-yard reception on third-and-long to spark New York's second-quarter touchdown drive that put the Giants ahead to stay. Hixon again beat Culliver for a 16-yard reception on third-and-8 three plays later, setting up Eli Manning's scoring pass to Victor Cruz on the next play.

Thumbs up: Patrick Willis isn't exactly the silent type, but he's not always one to rally the troops with emotion, either. So it was nice to see Willis lighting a fire under the 49ers as the team huddled around him near midfield moments before the opening kickoff, with the All-Pro linebacker demonstratively delivering some heated pre-game words to his teammates. After breathing that fire, Willis went out and finished with eight tackles - two of them for losses - but his teammates couldn't match that kind of intensity.

Thumbs down: But after a solid start, the Niners never could built on that emotion or the momentum they established early in the game. "It's tough to get up when you're not executing," Alex Smith said. "I think that's what comes first. I didn't feel flat at the beginning of the game, I don't think anyone did. It was more a sense of, when things aren't going well, it's tough."

Thumbs down: We understand Kyle Williams' eagerness to make something happen against the Giants, but bringing out the opening kickoff from nine yards deep in the end zone was no way to get things started for the 49ers, who would have started their first drive five yards further down the field had Williams just caught the ball and knelt down. Williams later went four yards backwards before he was brought down after bringing back a second-half kickoff, and he slipped while mishandling his next return, which went for only 10 yards to the San Francisco 15. Perhaps it's time to give that job back to Ted Ginn Jr.

Thumbs down: A bad situation went to worse when left tackle Joe Staley left the game with a concussion in the third quarter. San Francisco's third offensive tackle is Alex Boone, now the team's starting right guard, so you can imagine the disarray the loss of Staley caused along the offensive line. Boone saw time at both left tackle and right tackle in the fourth quarter, and Smith took an ugly 14-yard loss on a sack when Leonard Davis – Boone's replacement at right guard – was overwhelmed by Mathias Kiwanuka.

Thumbs down: The 49ers had to abandon the run after falling behind 23-3 midway through the third quarter, but 70 total yards rushing was a big comedown for the NFL's top-ranked rushing team after San Francisco rumbled for 311 yards on the ground in last week's rout of the Bills. The Frank Gore/Kendall Hunter tandem was limited to 62 yards on 12 carries after they combined to run through Buffalo for 187 yards on 25 totes against Buffalo.

Thumbs up: The Niners showed the Giants what they are missing by letting go of Mario Manningham on their first offensive play when Smith hit the newcomer receiver in traffic for a 9-yard gain that jump-started some early success by the San Francisco offense. Manningham was one of the few bright spots for the 49ers, leading the Niners with five receptions for 72 yards, including a 36-yard gain.

Thumbs down: The Niners bring in big Leonard Davis as an extra blocker on a pivotal third-and-1 play early in the third quarter, and he gets flagged for an egregious false start. That pushes the 49ers back into a third-and-6, a play on which Alex Smith might have thrown his worst pass of the season, an overthrow that was intercepted by Antrel Rolle.

Thumbs down: A few plays later, Manning and Cruz get crossed up and Manning throws the football right into the hands of Carlos Rogers in the shadow of the 49ers' goal line. And Rogers drops it, with clear sailing down the left sideline ahead of him.

Thumbs up: There was a nice Randy Moss sighting in both halves as the veteran receiver glided wide open across the middle and Alex Smith found him with a 20-yard reception in the first quarter to set up the David Akers field goal that gave San Francisco an early 3-0 lead. Smith later found Moss for a 55-yard gain late in the third quarter, San Francisco's longest offensive play of the season.

Thumbs down: But what is Smith doing, four plays later, throwing underneath to tight end Vernon Davis on a must-make fourth-and-14 play from the New York 34-yard line? Davis was only stopped eight yards short of a first down the Niners desperately needed to get back in the game.

Thumbs down: The Niners need Colin Kaepernick to do a better job reading the defense on read option plays. Kaepernick twice handed off to Frank Gore on plays that went nowhere when the long-legged quarterback appeared to have clear sailing around the left edge if he had kept the ball and ran the other way.

Thumbs up: A mini-salsa dance from NaVorro Bowman after stuffing Ahmad Bradshaw for a one-yard loss early in the second quarter and forcing the Giants into a third-and-long they couldn't convert? Before the floodgates opened on New York's big rally, Bowman's brief show of celebration seemed pretty quaint. But after a New York punt two plays later, Smith threw his first interception as the worm began to turn.

Thumbs down: And, man, did the worm ever turn. By the end of this one, even San Francisco's stout rushing defense was getting gouged by the Giants, who got 116 yards rushing and a 1-yard touchdown blast from Bradshaw, who ended San Francisco's NFL-best strings of not allowing a 100-yard rusher in 22 consecutive home games or a rushing touchdown in 12 consecutive home games. The Giants finished with 149 yards rushing, the most allowed by the 49ers this season.

Thumbs up: The Niners only have to wait four days to get this bitter taste out of their mouths as they host the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday to begin a run of three consecutive games against their NFC West opponents. With the big picture now a little fuzzy with two NFC losses, the Niners can now focus on gaining control of their division, where they remain in a three-way tie for first with Seattle and Arizona at 4-2 after the Cardinals lost at home in overtime to the Bills on Sunday.

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