Aldon Smith

49ers vs. Giants: NFL Network Replay reveals a team that believes

In case you don’t have the NFL Network or missed the 90-minute replay of the 49ers/Giants game, a contest that marks the best regular season game the Niners have been a part of for several years, I listed some stuff I missed and perhaps others did as well.

It’s the first time I’ve re-watched Sunday’s game, and the NFL Network replay package is a truly great service — they skip all the time between plays and provide footage on the sidelines and in the locker room the live broadcasts don’t provide.

In the future, I’d recommend looking out for these replays whenever the Niners play a game the NFL Network deems worthy. And this game was definitely more than worthy of a second look.

— Patrick Willis’ pregame speech: “We gotta believe.” The chant: “One, two, three … BELIEVE.”

— Linebackers Coach Jim Leavitt to NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, who were sitting on the bench after the Giants’ first series (which ended in a field goal after what should have been a fumble by Victor Cruz was overturned): “Hey, be great leaders today. For every snap, every snap. One at a time.”

— A play I forgot about after the game: 3rd-and-3 at the Giants’ 30, Alex Smith ducks a rushing Jason Pierre-Paul on his left side and throws to the left flat to Frank Gore, who takes it to the 22 for a first down.

— Justin Smith made a huge play in the second quarter, tackling Brandon Jacobs from behind on 2nd-and-10 from the 49ers’ 11. Jacobs was running downhill and probably thought he could take it to the right sideline for at least six yards. Instead, little-to-no gain on the play. Carlos Rogers made a great tackle on Jake Ballard at the 7 on the next play (the 49ers focused on Ballard to the same extent that opposing defenses focus on Vernon Davis, which led to Bear Pascoe getting open more often than what might normally have been the case).

— After holding the Giants to their second field goal, Willis said, “Nobody said it was gonna be easy.” Someone (I think Justin Smith) said, “They did.” Willis and Smith shared a laugh on that one.

— Kyle Williams catches a pass on the right for a first down. Williams wears No. 10, which makes sense. Michael Crabtree is No. 15, Braylon Edwards wears No. 17 and Ted Ginn’s No. 19. Even Brett Swain wears No. 18. The only guys on the team who wear numbers in the 80s are Vernon Davis (85), Brian Jennings (86) and Justin Peelle (81). Jerry Rice is somewhere, slowly shaking his head.

— A dropped pass in the second quarter might have been the biggest play of the game. Rogers described his first interception in an interview with NFL Network: “On that play before that, Victor Cruz ran a route where he kind of stuck me like he was going to run a dig and he ran a corner ball. Fortunately he dropped it. After that I said the next play I’m going to press him regardless, and I went up and pressed him and they ran the same route again (laughs) and luckily I turned around and undercut the route and it was just my job to pick it after that.”

— “They can’t come back with the same route,” Rogers said on the sideline after the INT. Willis adds, “What are they doing, picking on these good people?”

— Troy Aikman was a little more complimentary of the 49ers than I remembered during the live telecast. He said a lot of nice things about Alex Smith and Delanie Walker, in particular. He was still rooting for the Giants at the end, but his NFC East bias wasn’t nearly as blatant throughout the game as I had previously thought.

Second Half

— Alex’s worst mistake was missing that slant to Edwards early in the third quarter. It was nice that Smith was safe with the ball (none of his three end zone attempts on that drive were close to being intercepted), but that’s a pass he should complete.

— If Dashon Goldson was able to keep his feet in bounds, Manning has three INTs on the day and people probably start bringing up the whole “elite” thing again.

— “I give my heart to Alex. He’s a strong guy,” Vernon said after the game.

— Crabtree started in the backfield on the 2-pt conversion, and was left wide open after Edwards completely tied up Antrel Rolle, the closest defender on the play.

— Rogers gave up a few plays, but he was inside Manning’s head twice. On his second INT, Manningham broke off his “dig” route to the inside and held up, but Rogers figured Manning would throw it there anyway and was the only guy in the area.

— Fantastic blocks by everyone on the play, but Adam Snyder and Bruce Miller were both incredible on Kendall Hunter’s TD run. Joe Staley did a great job sealing off Pierre-Paul, too.

— The first guy off the sidelines to congratulate Hunter after he scored: a parka-wearing Gore.

— Tight ends coach Reggie Davis on the sideline, “Keep it rolling, these guys are a comeback team. Keep it rolling! You’re on their neck, now stomp ’em out!”

— The touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks proves that the Niners probably need to work on their safety blitzes. Whitner got stuffed by D.J. Ware and Goldson started rushing from so far back that he couldn’t get any pressure on Manning.

— Jim Harbaugh talking to Vernon and Crabtree on the bench: “These guys have come back twice in the fourth quarter, let’s stay on it now.”

— Jim Tomsula to the defensive linemen before the Giants’ final drive: “Justin, we’re going to come around the ends. You guys push it up, do whatever you want to do, you want to twist ’em.” Tomsula shrugged as he said that last part. It seemed more like he was providing a little tip as opposed to barking orders.

— If the 49ers want to campaign for Willis to win Defensive Player of the Year, they can send the clip of the consecutive plays where he chased down Jacobs from behind for a 4-yard loss and Manning for a loss of a yard. The way Willis held back and spied Manning, then targeted Manning when he tried to escape the pocket, was ridiculously impressive.

— Ware played the end of the game with a wrap around his right thigh, probably due to the hit Whitner put on him earlier in the fourth quarter. Another game, another opposing RB feeling some pain…

— Aldon Smith simply sprinted past right tackle Kareem McKenzie on his way to hitting Manning on that last drive. McKenzie, and 11-year vet, looked exhausted on that play. Before the ensuing 4th-and-5 play (that the Giants converted on a pass to Cruz), Aldon was shown smiling/laughing before he used a swim move to knock Ballard to the turf and almost reach Manning before he threw. McKenzie, who was probably supposed to help Ballard with Aldon, barely moved on the play. McKenzie was stuck in quicksand at the end of the game.

— With all the attention paid to Justin Smith batting the ball down on 4th down at the end, it’s easy to forget how on 3rd-and-2 he shoved ex-49er David Baas to the right (as if Baas weighs 150 pounds instead of 300+) and wrapped Ware up by his ankles for no gain on a rush up the middle.

— “We had a good play called, and obviously the guy just batted it down at the line of scrimmage,” Manning said of the Giants’ last offensive play while pretending not to know Justin Smith’s name. “So, you know, unfortunate. Good play by that guy getting his hand up there in the line of flight.”

— I know this quote has been mentioned this week, but it bears re-quoting… “As Justin’s walking out onto the field,” said Harbaugh. “He’s walking out with Ray. Last thing he said, ‘He’s going to throw it into the B gap.’ How Justin Smith knows that, just an example of him thinking through the game, communicating that to Ray.”

— From Harbaugh’s postgame speech: “That’s a classy team over there. That’s a darn good team, that’s a disciplined team. Good chance they’ll be playing long into the playoffs, too. Okay? But you outplayed them.”

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