It was supposed to be easy.
The Giants were 3-6, struggling to stop the run on defense and inconsistent on offense. The 49ers, meanwhile, had everything to play for to stay in the playoff hunt and also had a punishing ground attack that seemed built to beat New York.
Instead, the 49ers needed five interceptions – including one by rookie inside linebacker Chris Borland on a Giants fourth-and-goal play late in the fourth quarter – to beat the Giants 16-10 Sunday at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.
The victory pushes the 49ers’ record up to 6-4 and keeps them in the hunt in NFC playoff hunt.
The 49ers’ victory was preserved thanks to a goal-line stand with just under five minutes remaining in the game.
Eli Manning, who had connected with Odell Beckham for a 37-yard gain to the 49ers’ 4, missed on four consecutive passes. Fine defensive plays by Chris Culliver, Eric Reid and Dontae Johnson thwarted the first three, and then Borland gathered in a tipped ball on the fourth attempt to kill the threat and preserve the win.
But from the outset, the Giants made it tough on San Francisco.
The 49ers took the opening kickoff and drove to the New York 16, but then fumbled the ball away. The Giants then marched the opposite way to take a 7-0 lead on a touchdown pass from Manning to tight end Larry Donnell.
The 49ers took over the next two quarters, putting up three field goals by Phil Dawson and a touchdown on a 48-yard pass from Colin Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree in the third quarter that gave the Niners a 16-10 lead. Still, the 49ers were frustrated offensively. They moved the ball well, but had to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns. The offense has yet yet to score a TD in the fourth quarter this season.
Fortunately, the San Francisco defense came through in a big way, picking off Manning five times, including two by the rookie Borland, who again had an outstanding day playing in place of the injured Patrick Willis. Also with interceptions were Michael Wilhoite, Reid and Culliver.
The 49ers defense also allowed just 65 rushing yards.
On offense, the 49ers running attack was clicking. Frank Gore ran for 95 yards, with Carlos Hyde (25) and Kaepernick (24) also chipping in. The ground game and turnovers added up to the Niners winning the time-of-possession battle, almost 35 minutes to 25 minutes.
Kaepernick was 15-of-29 for 193 yards and one TD with no picks.
The 49ers, now on a two-game winning streak, will host Washington this coming Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.