EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -– It certainly was not the kind of masterpiece to silence the critics, but the 49ers did what they needed to do Sunday to keep pace in a crowded NFC playoff race.
The 49ers got another strong defensive effort and a disjointed offensive performance on their final extended road trip of the regular season to take a 16-10 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday.
The “haters,” as quarterback Colin Kaepernick called those who are critical of the 49ers on social media, had plenty of ammunition on Sunday. The 49ers’ offense bogged down repeatedly in the first half when they had a chance to build a comfortable lead and the the game away.
But, again, it was the defense that rescued the 49ers with another strong showing despite being plagued by injuries at every level. The 49ers (6-4) moved into a tie for second place in the NFC West with the Seattle Seahawks, who lost to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.
Phil Dawson made three first-half field goals, and the 49ers finally got into the end zone on their first possession of the second half when Kaepernick hit Michael Crabtree on a 48-yard pass play on the opening drive of the third quarter.
Crabtree took the short pass, turned up field, warded off safety Quintin Demps and got into the end zone for the first time the 49ers’ Oct. 13 game against the St. Louis Rams.
The 49ers won back-to-back road games and now will finish the season with five of their final six games in the Bay Area. The 49ers have four home games and one game, Dec. 7, at the Oakland Raiders.
After the Giants scored at ease against the 49ers on the first drive of the game after Gore’s fumble, the defense was outstanding. Quarterback Eli Manning was intercepted five times, and Antoine Bethea and Ray McDonald teamed up for a key fourth-down stop late in the third quarter.
Chris Culliver made an interception at the 49ers’ 20-yard line early in the fourth quarter when the Giants were driving, down 16-10. Culliver sprinted to the sideline, where he handed the ball to coach Jim Harbaugh.
But the defining moment for the defense was holding on a goal-line situation, in which the Giants had a first-and-goal situation from the 4-yard line late in the game. Culliver, Eric Reid and Dontae Johnson each came up with plays to break up passes. Linebacker Chris Borland intercepted Johnson's deflection at the 2-yard line on fourth down.
Meanwhile, Kaepernick completed 15 of 29 passes for 193 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.
Running back Frank Gore rushed for 95 yards on 19 carries against a defense that came into the game ranked No. 32 against the run.
Gore, who entered the day with 10,520 rushing yards, continues to move up the charts on the NFL’s all-time rushing list. He moved past Thomas Jones (10,591) and Jamal Lewis into No. 22 on the all-time chart.
Up and downs: Borland had two interceptions and Michael Wilhoite added another. Borland’s interception led to Phil Dawson’s 44-yard field goal, which gave the 49ers a 9-7 lead.
Wilhoite gave up a couple plays in pass coverage, too. Manning hit tight end Larry Donnell on a 19-yard touchdown pass for a 7-0 against Wilhoite’s coverage. Later, Wilhoite gave up a 30-yard pass to Donnell despite also being called for defensive pass interference.
Brooks benched: Aldon Smith did not start, but by the end of the first half he had settled back into his role as an every-down player -– mostly at the expense of Ahmad Brooks.
Smith entered in the second quarter and played opposite of Brooks. But for the final 18 snaps of the first half, Brooks was on the sideline and Smith was on the field with rookie Aaron Lynch.
And that’s the way the 49ers opened the second half, too. Lynch recorded a sack on third down to force a Giants punt on the first drive of the third quarter.
Inactive list: Receiver Bruce Ellington (ankle sprain), nose tackle Ian Williams (fractured fibula), outside linebacker Dan Skuta (ankle sprain) and cornerback Tramaine Brock (hamstring strain) were among the 49ers’ inactive players for Sunday’s game. Williams is likely to be placed on injured reserve in the near future.
Quinton Patton remained inactive, as the 49ers decided to go with four wide receivers. Newly signed running back Alfonso Smith was active for his special-teams contributions.
This ‘n’ that
--Giants kicker Josh Brown came through with a surprise onside kick in the third quarter and ripped the ball away from Bubba Ventrone for the Giants. Mark Herzlich came up with the recovery. The play did not have the intended significance for the Giants, as Eric Reid intercepted Manning on a third-down play.
--Kyle Nelson, who replaced Kevin McDermott at the end of training camp, had his first bad snap of the season. Late in the third quarter, Nelson’s snap was low to holder Andy Lee as Dawson lined up for a 51-yard field goal attempt. Lee could not get the ball down, and he threw incomplete on fourth down.
--The 49ers plan to have all their players on active-injured lists return to practice on Tuesday. That includes All-Pro inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman, whose participation in practice will be limited. Tuesday is the deadline for players to “return to practice” and still be eligible to play this season. How Bowman responds during practices will determine whether he will be able to play this season.
--Linebacker Patrick Willis, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve with a toe injury that will require surgery, still has an active role on the team. Just as when he was playing, Willis delivered the pregame pep talk to his teammates on the field prior to the game.
--Former 49ers offensive lineman Adam Snyder was one of the Giants’ inactive players