Commentary

49ers deserve Giants' full attention

'The Handshake' grabbed all the headlines but these Niners are a truly formidable foe

Updated: November 11, 2011, 1:24 PM ET
By Ohm Youngmisuk | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The San Francisco 49ers are off to a 7-1 start, and they own the top-ranked run defense and one of the hottest running backs in the NFL.

Yet it feels as if the Niners have garnered more attention from a handshake gone bad than their performance.

The 49ers got national attention for the postgame brouhaha between coach Jim Harbaugh and Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz on Oct. 16. But if they keep on winning, it won't be long before the 49ers get their due.

Jim Harbaugh & Jim Schwartz
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesJim Harbaugh gained notoriety earlier in the year for a contentious postgame encounter with Lions coach Jim Schwartz.

"Oh yeah, after the [handshake], they still don't give us the props but we don't worry about that," running back Frank Gore said. "As long as we see ourselves moving forward, we are fine with that."

Only one team in the NFL has played better than the Niners, and that's the undefeated Packers. San Francisco owns the second-longest winning streak (six) and is looking for its first seven-game winning streak since 1997.

Like the Giants, the Niners have shown a knack for coming from behind, including erasing a 20-point deficit to the Eagles in a 24-23 win Oct. 2.

They routed the Buccaneers the following week before pulling off a victory at Detroit, leading to The Handshake. The Niners' only loss came at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys in Week 2, and that was in overtime.

The Giants (6-2) are coming off their biggest win of the season -- a 24-20 victory over the New England Patriots. But they don't have much time to reflect since they have to win again on the road against the upstart Niners.

The last time the Giants played a team on a winning streak as long as San Francisco's was in 2007, when they faced a then 15-0 Patriots team at home.

"They're 7-1 and deservedly so," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "They play to their style. They run the ball. They defend the run. They don't turn the ball over. They're also No. 1 defensively in the red zone. They play a certain way. They take good care of the ball. They don't turn it over. There are very few giveaways and a lot of takeaways."

The 49ers and Giants both have strengths that play to the other's weaknesses. The Niners are excellent at running and stopping the run, while the Giants have struggled in those areas.

The Giants, though, are seventh in the NFL in passing and hope to expose a San Francisco defense that ranks 21st against the pass.

Still, the Giants have to figure out a way to help Eli Manning by running the ball effectively. Ahmad Bradshaw is nursing a fractured foot, and his status is unknown. Brandon Jacobs will carry the load again if Bradshaw can't play.

And more importantly, the Giants must come up with a plan to slow down Gore, who is averaging 126 yards over his past five games. The Giants have allowed teams to rush for 106 yards or more in their past six games.

One thing the Niners and Giants have in common: Both have a strong belief in the collective.

"We are just playing selfish-free ball, and if the running game is not there, we are going to try our best to put it in the air," Gore said. "It is not just me, it is everybody, we are all one. When you get a team that is all as one, on the same page, we feel like we can do anything."

Quarterback Alex Smith has played efficiently. While he might not be putting up gaudy numbers, he has thrown just two interceptions compared to 10 touchdowns. He is completing 64.1 percent of his passes and has done what Harbaugh wants.

While the Niners have surprised many, former San Francisco center David Baas thought a turnaround was coming.

Baas, who signed with the Giants in free agency, met with Harbaugh briefly before leaving. He had the impression that the Niners were going to turn things around after going 6-10 last season.

"I am not surprised," Baas said. "I think that Harbaugh and his crew are doing a really good job. You knew it was going to happen eventually.

"I look forward to going back out there," added Baas, who played six seasons for the Niners. "Hopefully the [old] stadium doesn't fall over on me or anybody else, but it's going to be good to go back out there and it's definitely going to be a tough challenge. They are doing things differently and it is working for them, but we have to focus on what we need to focus on here."

That means focusing everything on beating a team the Giants know for much more than a botched handshake.

"It was irrelevant," Harbaugh said when asked about the attention the Niners got from the controversy. "That little mini-controversy, that was an irrelevant one."

Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
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