Austrian-born paratrooper Felix Baumgartner made headlines on Sunday for skydiving an estimated 24 miles from the Earth's stratosphere, reaching an estimated speed of 834 mph. But Baumgartner wasn't the only thing that fell back to Earth at record speeds.
In arguably their biggest game of the season, the San Francisco 49ers suffered their worst defeat under head coach Jim Harbaugh, falling to the New York Giants by a score of 26-3. A rematch of the NFC Championship game this past January, it was billed as ‘America's Game of the Week,' but it really wasn't much of a game at all.
The 49ers were embarrassed.
After outgaining the Giants on offense 110 to 24 yards in the first quarter, it was the Eli Manning show the rest of the afternoon. The Giants never let off the gas as they piled on 26 unanswered points after a lone David Akers field goal.
"Not our best game," said coach Harbaugh. "We gave up the big play coming out of the half, and things continued to get worse from there in the beginning of the second half. The plan wasn't the best plan...It wasn't a great day for any of us."
Last week against the Buffalo Bills, quarterback Alex Smith had a career day throwing 3 touchdown passes and no interceptions and was not sacked once. On Sunday against the Giants, Smith threw zero touchdowns and three interceptions and was sacked six times.
"They're a good team, good defense," said Smith. "And we forced some things tonight. I felt like I forced some things. Any time you turn the ball over like that, it's tough to win. When we did get down to the red zone...we ended up kicking field goals, and you can't do that all the time."
Against the Bills, the 49ers also became the first team in NFL history to record over 300 yards passing and over 300 yards rushing in the same game. Against the Giants? 314 yards of total offense.
"It's tough when you can't get into a rhythm as an offense," said tight end Vernon Davis. "Because that's how you generate excitement. One guy makes a play, and the next guy wants to make it, and you just get excited about it. So when you can't get into that rhythm, it's kind of frustrating."
Davis admits that a loss is harder to swallow after a streak of wins, but with a short work week ahead before facing the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday Night Football, he and his teammates will have to get over it fast.
"When you've been winning for a little while, you have a tough time dealing with losing," said Davis. "So I think as a team, [we need to] just accept the simple fact that we lost the game. We didn't hurt anyone but ourselves. So we have to deal with it as a team and get ready for the next one."
THE HOT SEAT
-- QB Alex Smith - 19/30, 200 passing yards, 3 interceptions, 43.1 QB Rating
CAPTION: SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 14: Quarterback Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers is sacked by outside linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka #94 of the New York Giants during the fourth quarter at Candlestick Park on October 14, 2012 in San Francisco, California. The New York Giants defeated the San Francisco 49ers 26-3. Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
I won't say he played like ‘the Alex of old,' but on Sunday, Alex all but abandoned everything that made him such a successful and efficient quarterback. Instead of standing tall and poised in the pocket, he would prematurely break away from it. Instead of being patient for passing opportunities, he forced throws into tight windows - and paid the price for it. To put it simply, Alex played extremely uncharacteristically.
A lot was made of Alex's taped middle finger which he sprained at some point during last week's game against the Bills (he doesn't know exactly when it happened), but the quality of his throws seemed unaffected by it. It seems that Alex was merely a victim of his own poor decision-making and the coaches' choice to abandon the run.
Frank Gore averaged 4.7 yards from his seven carries in the first quarter; he only carried the ball once more the rest of the day. San Francisco leads the league in total rushing offense. I have to wonder how much the passing game could have benefited from a steady dose of Gore and Kendall Hunter.
-- CB Tarell Brown - Surrendered passes of 11 yards, 16 yards, 16 yards, 26 yards
CAPTION: SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 14: Wide receiver Victor Cruz #80 of the New York Giants makes a catch against defensive back Tarell Brown #25 of the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on October 14, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Unfortunately for Tarell Brown, he is the avatar of San Francisco's porous pass defense on Sunday. Truthfully, everyone in the 49ers' secondary got picked on, but Brown surrendered 36% of Eli Manning's passing production. By down, distance, receiver, and yardage:
- 3rd and 6, Victor Cruz for 11 yards
- 1st and 10, Victor Cruz for 16 yards
- 1st and 10, Hakeem Nicks for 16 yards
- 2nd and 1, Hakeem Nicks for 26 yards
Last season, San Francisco's pass defense was considered a major weakness. This season, the issues in the secondary appeared to be remedied before rearing its ugly head on Sunday. Harbaugh said it himself: the 49ers gave up ‘the big play.' They gave up a lot of ‘the big play.'
It's shocking when you consider that Eli only passed for 193 yards and a single touchdown. Matter of fact, as the league's second-most productive passer, it was by far Eli's worst game of the season statistically. But when your own offense can't even crack the red zone, it's a big problem.
-- Special teams --
CAPTION: SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 14: Running back David Wilson #22 of the New York Giants carries the ball against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on October 14, 2012 in San Francisco, California. The Giants won 26-3. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Special teams continues to be a sore subject for San Francisco.
Towards the end of the first quarter, on a Giants punt return, David Wilson burst through a massive hole for a 46-yard return which was negated by a holding penalty. To start the second half, Wilson was back to receive the kickoff for the Giants. Wilson received the ball at the 2-yard line and brought it 66 yards to San Francisco's 32-yard line.
This is the second straight week that the 49ers' special teams coverage unit was gashed for big return yardage. There are wide open gaps on almost every return, and the league's faster return men can and have exploited them. Last week, it was Leodis McKelvin, and this week, it was David Wilson.
This was a blowout victory for the Giants as far as I'm concerned, but there are bound to be some close games in the future that may be decided on special teams. Brad Seely, you're officially on notice.
THE WATER COOLER
"A rivalry renewed"
I remember listening to sports radio host Damon Bruce on KNBR in the week leading up to the NFC Championship game this past January. Bruce, speaking of the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers, talked about how both teams just seem like they belong on the field together, how even the team colors just look right together. Red and gold, blue and white.
Obviously, the roots of the rivalry extend beyond the 2012 NFC Championship Game.
- The Joe Montana-led 49ers defeated the Giants in the 1981 and 1984 divisional rounds en route to winning Super Bowl XVI and Super Bowl XVX - the first two championships for the 49ers.
- In 1986, the Giants hammered the 49ers in the divisional round, 49-3, before winning Super Bowl XXI - the first championship for the Giants. Defensive tackle Jim Burt infamously knocked Montana out of the game in the second quarter.
- Then in the 2003 NFC Wild Card game, Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens brought the 49ers back from a 24-point deficit to defeat the Giants.
Through the eighties alone, the 49ers and Giants won a combined six world championships. As of today, the Giants edge the 49ers in regular season meetings, 15-14, while breaking even in the playoffs, 4-4. Obviously, the Giants have been the more relevant team in the last decade. While the 49ers struggled for years to even break .500 in the regular season, the Giants were winning Super Bowls.
I think it's a good thing for football that the interdivisional rivalry between these two teams is starting to see life once more. You can't have a great rivalry without two competitive teams, and the 49ers and Giants are going to be competing for a long time. They'll meet each other again in the near future, I'm sure.
Speaking of heated rivalries, the 49ers will venture into their own division for the first time this season as they host Pete Carroll's Seattle Seahawks this week on Thursday Night Football. Matter of fact, the next three games are against the rest of the NFC West - a division that currently features three 4-2 teams.
If the 49ers want to make a return trip to the playoffs this year, they'll have to test their mettle within the division. A month from now, we'll see what they're truly made of.
Follow Anthony Ly on Twitter: @TheBellamores