SAN FRANCISCO -- The New York Giants had to work overtime to beat the San Francisco 49ers 20-17 in the NFC Championship Game last season.
In the rematch Sunday at Candlestick Park, the defending Super Bowl champion Giants took care of business early, handing the 49ers a convincing 26-3 defeat in a battle of NFC heavyweights.
The Giants intercepted 49ers quarterback Alex Smith three times, two by safety Antrel Rolle and one by cornerback Prince Amukamara. Smith entered the game with just one interception this season and hadn't had a three-pick game since Dec. 20, 2009, against Philadelphia. The Giants also sacked Smith five times, two of those by defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning threw for 193 yards and a touchdown -- a six-yard strike to Victor Cruz -- while Ahmad Bradshaw rushed 27 times for 116 yards and a touchdown.
The Giants and 49ers left Candlestick Park with identical 4-2 records and could meet again in the playoffs, just as they did last season after the 49ers beat them 27-20 in November.
Before facing the Giants, San Francisco had won back-to-back games by a combined score of 79-3, beating the Jets and Bills and gaining a franchise-record 621 yards against Buffalo.
This time, the 49ers scored the fewest points ever in a game under coach Jim Harbaugh and the fewest since losing 21-0 to Tampa Bay on Nov. 21, 2010, under Mike Singletary.
The Giants built a 10-3 halftime lead and wasted little time taking firm control in the third quarter.
David Wilson returned the second-half kick 66 yards to the 49ers' 32. Bradshaw capped a seven-play drive with a one-yard touchdown run up the middle, putting the Giants ahead 17-3 with 11:48 left in the third quarter. Bradshaw carried five times for 23 yards on the drive, and Manning completed a nine-yard pass to Cruz.
The Giants then turned back-to-back interceptions by Rolle on the 49ers' next two drives into two Lawrence Tynes field goals, extending their lead to 23-3 with 6:10 left in the third.
On third-and-six from his 23, 49ers quarterback Smith tried to hit former Giant wide receiver Mario Manningham over the middle. But cornerback Corey Webster tipped the pass, and Rolle grabbed the deflection, then returned 20 yards to the 12. That set up Tynes' 30-yard field goal.
On the 49ers' next drive, Smith sent a pass toward Michael Crabtree over the middle on a third-and-16 from his 15. Rolle cut in front for the interception and returned 22 yards to the 49ers' 5, setting up Tynes' 22-yarder.
The Giants built a seven-point halftime lead, largely on the strength of their defense and Manning's right arm.
Manning completed 13 of 18 passes (72 percent) for 176 yards and one touchdown in the first half with no interceptions. He had a passer rating of 121.5. Domenik Hixon caught four passes for 78 yards in the first half, while Cruz caught four for 41 and Hakeem Nicks three for 44.
Smith, meanwhile, completed just 11 of 18 passes for 91 yards with an interception and passer rating of 50.9 in the opening half.
David Akers, who missed a field goal from 43 yards on the 49ers' first drive, hit from 42 to give San Francisco a 3-0 lead with 2:00 left in the first quarter.
Manning's six-yard laser to Cruz, capping a 67-yard touchdown drive, put the Giants ahead 7-3 with 10:04 left in the half. Cruz beat 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers on a quick post and caught Manning's strike in the back of the end zone.
Until Cruz's catch -- and celebratory salsa dance -- the 49ers had gone nine straight quarters without allowing a touchdown.
The Giants' scoring drive began after Amukamara intercepted Smith's underthrown deep pass intended for tight end Delanie Walker. Hixon beat nickel corner Chris Culliver deep down the right sideline and caught Manning's 39-yard pass on third-and-seven, giving the Giants a first down at the 49er 24. Hixon beat Culliver again for 16 yards on third-and-eight from the 22. On the next play, Manning connected with Cruz for a touchdown.
The Giants had a chance to increase their lead before half, but 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown beat Giants tight end Bear Pascoe off the left edge and made a diving block of Lawrence Tynes' 40-yard field goal attempt.
NOTES: 49ers starting left tackle Joe Staley suffered a concussion midway through the third quarter and did not return to the game. Alex Boone took his place. ... Former Giants running back Brandon Jacobs (knee) was inactive for the 49ers. He has yet to suit up for a regular-season game with San Francisco. ... Markus Kuhn started at right defensive tackle for the Giants in place of the injured Rocky Bernard, who was inactive. ... After missing three games, Nicks (knee/foot) returned to the starting lineup for New York. ... Giants linebacker Jacquian Williams suffered a calf injury in the second half.