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What we learned from Giants' win over 49ers

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Manning mastered Mullens on Monday night, as the New York Giants (2-7) came back from a 10-point second-half deficit to defeat the San Francisco 49ers (2-8), 27-23. Here's what we learned from the final game of Week 10:

1. If this was Eli Manning's last start in a Giants uniform, well, it was the best of both Elishas. Behind an improved offensive line, Manning didn't take as many sacks, forced or unforced, that he had in recent games. He even connected to Odell Beckham for two touchdowns for the first time since Week 3 of 2017. But his connection with Beckham and his other receivers was still fraught with egregious underthrows, drops and slips. Manning couldn't or chose not to push the ball down the field, often checking down for low-risk dumpoffs to Saquon Barkley and Elijhaa Penny. Eli was averaging just 5.4 yards per attempt heading into Big Blue's final march. And then, "Super Bowl Eli" arrived, with a little help -- well, a lot of help -- from a penalty-prone 49ers defense.

With New York down by three, Manning ran a choppy two-minute drill to take back the lead. First, Eli connected with a wide-open Evan Engram on a 31-yard parabola. Then, the Giants picked up two consecutive first downs by targeting tightly covered Giants and forcing questionable 49ers defensive penalties. Near the red zone, Manning connected with a crossing Barkley who did yeoman's work to get the ball to the 12-yard line. Eli closed out the drive with tosses to Engram and a beautiful throw to a leaping Sterling Shepard near the pylon for six. It was a throwback to Giants comebacks of yesteryear, a thrilling finish that proved Manning's not yet finished.

"We've seen it all along. I watched it when I wasn't coaching here: Eli being able to engineer drives at the end of the game," Giants coach Pat Shurmur marveled at the close of Monday night's affair. "That's one of the things that he does extremely well. So I was happy to see him engineer that touchdown drive to win the game."

2. The Giants almost left too much time for Young Nick Mullens, who came down to earth a bit in his second prime-time start. Mullens threw two interceptions on Monday evening, both of them tipped into the hands of Big Blue linebacker B.J. Goodson. Mullens (250 yards) wasn't gun-shy over the middle, tossing pinpoint lasers to Kendrick Bourne and Marquise Goodwin on slants but oft-putting his receivers in compromising positions. Goodwin (69 yards) took two headshots in the span of one minute of game time but miraculously finished the game and played a pivotal role on the final march. With 53 seconds left, Mullens almost engineered a game-winning 75-yard drive, but threw one too many passes in the middle of the field with 18 seconds left. Goodwin was its recipient and, instead of immediately falling to the ground to save time for two more plays, ran in the direction of the sideline before bailing. Mullens spiked the ball with just one second left, and his final heave flew out of the end zone. A close finish for the rookie, and a learning experience for everyone involved.

"Extremely disappointed. We put ourselves in a position where we should have won that game," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters following the loss. "We had a chance to step on their throat and didn't. We didn't make plays at the end."

3. An All-Pro tight end in the making, George Kittle continued his breakout season with one of his best showings yet. With a rookie quarterback under center, Kittle reeled in a career-high nine catches on a career-best 10 targets for 83 yards and helped Mullens pick up four first downs. Though he was not targeted in the fourth quarter, Kittle's aggression and versatility on the line of scrimmage provided problematic matchups in New York's secondary all night. Asked by reporters what he's done to continue this elite run of play, Kittle said he takes notes from Pierre Garcon and "flips a switch." "When I see someone flat-footed and I get to run over them," Kittle explained, "that makes me very happy." Watch out, Niners opponents.

4. It was nice to see Matt Breida get off the schneid with his second career 100-yard rushing game. Breida has been bothered by an ankle injury this season and admitted it hindered him a bit on Monday night, though you couldn't tell. The 23-year-old boasts elite acceleration and hits holes with veteran decisiveness. In a lost season, San Francisco has in Breida and Kittle two fun pieces to play with and two true talents to build around.

5. San Francisco and New York remain nowhere near playoff contention -- though technically the Giants have a sliver of a chance to contend in the mediocre NFC East. Given that, might the Giants and their fans regret Monday night's comeback victory come April? New York's win takes the club out of a tie for worst record in the league with the Oakland Raiders (1-8). Behind the Raiders in the draft order now are, in this order, the 49ers, Giants, Cardinals and Jets.

6. Unfortunate weather and field conditions might have played a factor in this one. Around 200 miles south of the wildfires raging in Butte County, Levi's Stadium was subject to "unhealthy" air conditions with the Air Quality Index breaking 160. Many patrons were seen wearing masks as to combat the conditions and players on both sidelines were huffing oxygen throughout the night. The Levi's turf was also lacking. Many players slipped on the field, including Barkley, who had to switch out his cleats for longer studs in the first quarter, and Beckham, who missed out on a third touchdown reception when he slipped on the goal line.

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