Mining for success, 49ers strike defeat once again

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Fighting, scrapping in their bid to end a three-game losing streak, the San Francisco 49ers showed game. Their defense forced the Giants to a three-and-out punt with 5:08 remaining. The 49ers trailed 27-17. Two more possessions, two more scores and the 49ers could breathe verve into a season slipping into gloom.

They began on their 20-yard line after the punt.

First play, quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan on a pass attempt is slung around by stout end Justin Tuck. The ball pops loose. It is kicked around by both teams and winds up in the 49ers' end zone. And 49ers rookie receiver Josh Morgan decides to boot it completely out of the end zone to avoid worse than the safety that is charged.

Make that a four-game 49ers losing streak.

One minute they are heading north and in an instant they are heading south. As in a 2-5 record after the Giants stupefied them 29-17 at Giants Stadium .

The Giants called it a "redemption" victory after their meager showing last Monday night at Cleveland. For the 49ers, this calamity followed a 31-17 loss to New Orleans, a 30-21 loss to New England and a 40-26 loss to Philadelphia.

There were two O'Sullivan interceptions, both by safety Michael Johnson, the first leading to a Giants field goal and the second in New York's end zone on a play that began at the Giants' 19. Both picks were in the final four minutes of the second quarter and helped New York to a 17-10 halftime lead.

There were four 49ers fumbles, though only one was lost, and 13 penalties for 134 yards, which was nearly four times the amount of yards that the 49ers managed running the football (35 yards).

There were breakdowns and there were miscues and there was sloppy play on both sides.

But the 49ers won that battle, hands down.

They failed to take control at any point in this road game though the opportunities were there.

This is how losing streaks breed. Bits and pieces coalesce into one gigantic headache.

"We keep finding ways to hurt ourselves," 49ers safety Michael Lewis said. "We're always in the games. But we're finding ways to lose them."

Receiver Isaac Bruce echoed that thought, but in a 15-year-veteran, philosophical way: "The small foxes spoil the vine. The little things. That's our problem."

Little things turn into colossal things.

Ask 49ers cornerback Nate Clements, who kept getting torched on critical pass-interference plays among other fouls, then late in the third quarter scooped up a blocked field goal attempt and raced 74 yards untouched to close the Giants' lead to 24-17. The Giants would gain a field goal early in the fourth quarter, but the 49ers' defense rose after that and forced that punt and the team looked ready to soar.

But, of course, that was when north became south.

"It's hard to predict what will happen in these games," Clements said. "I kept trying to make some plays that would help us win the game."

Nearly all of the 49ers did.

But the Giants were a touch smarter, a bit more efficient and a heck of a lot more tenacious in avoiding stumbling over their own feet.

As their coach Tom Coughlin told them, they are capable of playing "a lot better" but the object was to win one game. And the Giants (5-1) did that.

They ran the ball twice as many times as the 49ers, sacked O'Sullivan six times, averaged 48.8 yards per punt and led in time of possession by nine minutes.

"We could have played better, but they set the example of how mistakes creep up on you and bite you," Giants running back Brandon Jacobs said after his two-rushing touchdown day. "Mistakes are the difference between winning and losing. We made a few. But they made a few more. We're a good football team. We know we have to play better. More games and competition and reps for us will get us better."

The Giants experienced the 49ers employing a quick-drop, quick-strike attack like the Browns used that helped negate the pass rush. But when the 49ers were forced to spend time in the pocket, Tuck (two sacks) often met them there.

Tuck offered that this game was a redemption one for him and his teammates. The 35-14 loss at Cleveland had left a lingering sour taste among the Giants.

"We were able to contain Frank Gore and their running game early and that turned things into a situation that's good for us -- them throwing, us rushing," Tuck said. "Coming off a game where we did not play our best, we faced some adversity. But this team is becoming very good at smiling at adversity. We can build on this."

The Giants must with their next game at Pittsburgh followed by a home game against Dallas, one of five divisional games New York has remaining.

"Pittsburgh's a great team," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said. "They're going to be a tough challenge for us, especially playing there."

A more disciplined team might have beaten the Giants on Sunday.

The 49ers through seven games are far from that.

The Giants? Give them this -- they know the difference between north and south. They know how to force the action. They know how to cover their warts. They know how to hang around. They know when a team will cough it up -- and how to get to 5-1 in this marathon NFL season.

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