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With one humbling defeat to a seemingly inferior opponent, the New York Giants saw several streaks go up in smoke.
Trying to bounce back Sunday, the reigning Super Bowl champions have the luxury of facing another struggling team as they try to hand the San Francisco 49ers a fourth straight loss.
The Giants (4-1) had won all four games this season, eight in row overall including postseason, and 12 consecutive games away from their home field, but saw those streaks all end Monday night, when they gave up 18 unanswered points to the Cleveland Browns in the second half of a 35-14 defeat.
“This team will bounce back. I believe that,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “It is disappointing to fall into whatever lapse we fell into in not playing as well as we have been playing.”
Giants quarterback Eli Manning may have had the roughest day of all. He threw for a season-low 196 yards with three interceptions - including one returned for a 94-yard touchdown by Eric Wright - and came away from the game with a bruised chest. Although he wasn’t certain of the injury’s severity, Coughlin indicated Tuesday that the Super Bowl MVP likely would not miss practice or this week’s game.
“Eli has played very well with soreness,” said Coughlin, whose team fell to 1-4 when Manning throws three or more interceptions. “I’m sure that will be something he’ll go ahead and practice and play with, but we’ll see. I don’t have a lot of information now.”
It was an all-around disappointing effort for the Giants, who scored their fewest points since a 22-10 loss to Washington last Dec. 16, allowed their most since ending the regular season with a 38-35 defeat against New England, and allowed the Browns to convert on nine of 13 third downs.
On the bright side for New York, running back Derrick Ward had the second 100-yard game of his career, gaining 101 yards on 10 carries.
Despite the loss, the Giants’ still lead the NFL with 419.4 total yards and 181.2 rushing yards per game. They are also averaging 6.1 yards per rush. Those numbers could indicate a mismatch against a 49ers defensive unit that ranks 26th in the NFL.
That shaky defense proved San Francisco’s undoing at home last Sunday against Philadelphia. The 49ers (2-4) led by nine points entering the fourth quarter, but yielded 23 points in the final 11:38 en route to a 40-26 defeat.
“We’ve just got to finish,” said running back Frank Gore, who carried 19 times for 101 yards and scored the 49ers’ lone offensive touchdown. “We got ahead. We kind of got comfortable, and the Eagles played great.”
“If there’s been anything that’s disappointing in these last three weeks is that these are games that we felt we should have won,” 49ers coach Mike Nolan said.
Also troubling for the 49ers is the apparent regression of quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan, who has thrown seven interceptions during the three-game losing streak after throwing only one In the first three games. The first-year starter has also seen his completion percentage - 66.7 percent in the first three weeks - dwindle to 51.6 during the skid.
He has been sacked a league-high 23 times.
If O’Sullivan continues to struggle, the 49ers may need to rely even more heavily on Gore, whose 524 rushing yards rank fourth in the NFL. He also leads San Francisco with 22 receptions for 196 yards.
Gore was a relative bright spot for the 49ers when they visited New York last Oct. 21, gaining 111 yards of total offense, but four turnovers helped undo San Francisco in a 33-15 defeat.
The Giants have won the last two meetings between these teams, tying the all-time series at 13 victories apiece. San Francisco, though, is 5-2 versus the Giants at the Meadowlands.