NFL Preview - New York Giants (3-2) at San Francisco 49ers (4-1)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said the scariest thing about last week's blowout of the Buffalo Bills is that it "could have been worse."
That's hard to imagine given the franchise-record 621 yards amassed in the first of three straight home games for the 49ers. The NFC West leaders will get back to work Sunday versus the team that dashed their Super Bowl dreams a year ago, the New York Giants.
Smith said that there's "little unfinished business" the 49ers have with the Giants, whose 20-17 overtime win in last season's NFC Championship Game propelled them to a second title in the previous five seasons. San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh noted that the Giants are a well-balanced team with an explosive offense, and one of the all-around top teams in the league.
Harbaugh can also direct similar convictions to his team, one that became the first team in NFL history with 300-plus yards passing and 300 or more yards rushing in a game. Protection, route running and precise throws are three areas that Harbaugh keyed on following Sunday's 45-3 blowout of the Bills in which the 49ers amassed 311 yards rushing and 310 yards through the air.
Smith said it was the "best offensive performance" he has been a part, but didn't walk away unscathed. Smith, who threw for a season-high 303 yards and three touchdowns, suffered an injury to the middle finger on his throwing hand and had it wrapped afterward. Harbaugh was asked if the injury would be significant enough to sideline Smith.
"It's very much of a concern if that happens, and we'll see how it is," Harbaugh said Monday. "Alex is well documented how tough he is. He talks about it not being a big deal. So we'll see."
Smith said he suffered the injury on his last throw of the game. Either way, he is 17-4 as a starter since the beginning of last season -- the most in the NFL over that period -- and has the 49ers 4-1 for a second straight campaign, marking the first time since 2001-02 that San Francisco has started 4-1 in consecutive seasons. San Francisco is 11-1 at home since Dec. 1, 2010.
The 49ers have been rolling on defense as well and pitched a shutout the week before in a 34-0 romp at the New York Jets. They had 379 yards that day, including 245 rushing, but defensively were extremely stingy.
A hungry Giants team enters Candlestick Park for the second time in less than nine months and will have its hands full for the remainder of the season.
The Giants played what was pretty much their last "pushover" team on the 2012 schedule in Sunday's 41-27 come-from-behind win over the Cleveland Browns. Trailing 14-0 and 17-7 at one point, the Giants ripped off 27 straight points to take the lead for good and later added a 40-yard touchdown run by David Wilson as icing on the proverbial cake.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin was asked about the slow starts at home.
"Well we don't plan on it. We talk about starting well, starting fast and that's what the idea was," Coughlin said. "But we did talk about finishing, too, and we did finish."
Coughlin was down a few key pieces to the offense, as wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden missed the game. But players such as wide receiver Rueben Randle and running back David Wilson stepped up when their number was called. Even though all three of Eli Manning's touchdown passes went to Victor Cruz, Randle had a team-high six catches for 82 yards.
"He was one of those guys that needed to play well for us to win and he did play well and got us going," Coughlin said of Randle.
Andre Brown's time has been cut in half with Ahmad Bradshaw back at full strength and he ran for 14 yards on five carries. Bradshaw exploded for a career-high 200 yards and a score on 30 carries, also a career best, while Wilson mopped up with 44 yards and a score in Sunday's win that pushed the 3-2 Giants to the top of the NFC East with Philadelphia.
Safety Stevie Brown was in for an injured Kenny Phillips and had one of New York's two interceptions on the day. Brown also recorded one of the seven passes defensed recorded for New York, which piled up 502 yards of offense (243 rushing) and rebounded from a tough road loss to the Eagles the week before.
The road will be an arduous one from here on out for the defending Super Bowl champion Giants, who have the 49ers, Redskins, Cowboys, Steelers and Bengals on the docket before the bye. San Francisco defeated the Giants, 27-20, in the regular season a year ago, before losing in the NFC title game. The Giants have won four of the previous five meetings between the teams, including the postseason.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
New York's offense has taken flight under a resurgent Manning. Whether he wants to go down as the greatest Manning to play in the NFL, the Giants have been pleased with their two-time Super Bowl champion QB. Manning is second in the NFL with 1,579 passing yards and fifth with 10 TD passes. He was able to get the Giants back on track after they were down to an inferior Browns squad, but did throw an interception for a second straight week. New York is second in both total yards (429.2) and points scored (30.4) and third in passing yards (309.0). Cruz and Randle galvanized the aerial attack for the Giants, who gained 502 yards, their second-highest total of the season. They finished with 609 yards in a victory over Tampa Bay on Sept. 16.
Also, the 243 yards rushing was the highest since finishing with 301 against Carolina on Dec. 21, 2008. The 49ers have one of the toughest defenses in the league and stopping the run has been their calling card. Save a loss to Minnesota a few weeks, ago, it will be a challenge for New York to get the ground game going. Choosing to pass will be difficult, too, as San Francisco sits second in the league in that category, allowing just 181.2 yards per game. San Francisco is first in points allowed (13.6) and second in yards permitted (262.6). This should be another tight game much like the NFC Championship. The 49ers registered six sacks in that one and still lost.
The 49ers are coming off a sizzling offensive performance that left Smith flabbergasted, especially since Joe Montana and Steve Young were never involved in such a statistical explosion.
"Yeah, it's crazy, I didn't know that until the end there when they said it," Smith of breaking the team record for yards. "Very cool, a lot of offenses and great offenses. When you think of the 49ers you think of great offenses, so this is quite an honor. It's great to be with those guys."
San Francisco's previous record was 598 yards versus Buffalo on Sept. 13, 1992. The 49ers had 320 yards in the first half as well. They will have to slow down Manning, who posted his 24th consecutive 200-yard game, the second- longest streak in NFL history behind Dan Fouts' 45 in a row from 1980-83. But then again that shouldn't be a problem with how well the 49ers' defense has been the last two weeks in yielding just three total points.
Linebackers Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman usually garner much of the attention for their athleticism, but Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith were high on Harbaugh's list for their play Sunday. Brooks had the lone sack for the defense and is second behind Smith (4 1/2) with three on the year. Smith had one of the six sacks on Manning in last year's playoffs.
The 49ers are sizzling right now, both offensively and defensively, and have been playing exceptionally well in front of the home crowd. This will be a revenge game for San Francisco after it came up one win short of the ultimate game at the hands of New York. The Giants won't lay down for this one, however, as any loss could alter the course in the NFC East with four teams still alive for the division lead. Manning's due for a clunker and it's better to get it out of the way early. Defensively, the Giants are in the middle of the road and are facing the top rushing team in the NFL and the third-highest scoring squad at 29.8 ppg. Another factor to include is that San Francisco averages more than 400 yards of offense, thanks to the past two weeks, and New York is allowing almost that many (372.8).
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: 49ers 23, Giants 13
10/11 13:00:30 ET