SANTA CLARA — Maybe running backs do matter. For the Giants anyway.
A tougher and more spirited defensive effort still couldn’t prevent the 49ers from blowing out the Giants, 30-12, at Levi’s Stadium on Thursday night.
Saquon Barkley’s absence due to a high ankle sprain put the onus on Daniel Jones to stay with the Niners. And Brian Daboll’s offense sputtered badly without him.
The Giants (1-2) now have been outscored 63-6 in the first half through three games. And backup Tyrod Taylor replaced Jones in the fourth quarter of a blowout for the second time in the first three games.
“No excuses,” Daboll said. “There’s a lot of stuff we can do better in every phase.”
The Giants were outgained 441 yards to 150. They managed 29 yards rushing. Their only touchdown came on a short field with the ball starting at the San Fran 37. And Jones and Darren Waller failed to connect on two important big play opportunities.
Waller dropped a pass at the end of the first half with daylight to run in front of him. Jones missed Waller high and behind him early in the fourth quarter.
And then, after a Brock Purdy 27-yard TD pass to Deebo Samuel put San Fran ahead 30-12 with 5:58 to play, Jones fittingly was intercepted by Niners safety Talanoa Hufanga with 3:35 remaining to seal the deal on a pass intended for Waller, broken up by corner Charvarius Ward.
Waller said neither pass was a perfect ball but “I’ve gotta find a way to bring it in.”
“Nothing I’m gonna make excuses for because it’s in my radius,” Waller said.
Wink Martindale’s blitzes and strong play from players like linebacker Micah McFadden created some silver linings, but the Giants know the schedule doesn’t get any easier with the Seattle Seahawks, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills on deck.
Corner Adoree Jackson didn’t want to hear about moral victories for the defense or team, either.
“If we did our job, we would have won the game,” Jackson said. “We play hard, with grit, with will, but if you lose it doesn’t matter. We didn’t execute, didn’t tackle and didn’t get off the field [on third down].”
The score got away from the Giants at a slow trickle in the second half, as the defense fought and the offense floundered.
The Giants actually scored the first points of the second half to climb back into the game after being down 13 at the half. Niners corner Shemar Jean-Charles interfered with an Eric Gray fair catch attempt on a punt return, giving Jones and the Giants offense starting field position at the 49ers’ 37-yard line.
Waller then drew a 22-yard pass interference penalty on Niners corner Deommodore Lenoir to set up a Matt Breida 8-yard touchdown run. John Michael Schmitz, Evan Neal and Darius Slayton made strong blocks on the TD.
It drew the Giants within 17-12 with 10 minutes left in the third quarter, although Daboll went for two and the attempt failed with a sack of Jones.
Martindale then dialed up the blitz to send Jason Pinnock into Purdy’s face and hold the 49ers to a field goal on their next drive despite a 40-yard completion to Samuel that saw the Giants defense miss three tackles on the same play.
That was an especially encouraging stop after an illegal contact penalty on Kayvon Thibodeaux had given the Niners a first down in the red zone and sent Daboll screaming at the refs. D.J. Davidson and Leonard Williams combined for a sack on the drive, as well. And San Francisco took a 20-12 lead with 4:08 to play in the third.
A three and out by the Giants’ offense then gave way to another 49ers drive and Jake Moody field goal for a 23-12 Niners lead with 12:47 remaining.
At that point, it at least felt encouraging the Giants had kept the game relatively close.
They showed fight at the start, which was a welcome change from their first two games. But they still trailed 17-6 at halftime after being outgained 242 yards to 88 through two quarters.
The defense held the 49ers to a field goal on the game’s opening drive. Adoree Jackson nearly intercepted Purdy, and Deonte Banks broke up a third-down pass in the red zone.
Jones then drove the offense down the field for three points to tie it immediately, keyed by a scramble and 18-yard completion to running back Gary Brightwell. And after a defensive stop, the Giants took the game to the second quarter tied, three apiece.
They even got a 60-yard punt from Jamie Gillan to flip field position early in the second quarter after a Nick Bosa sack of Jones pinned the Giants at their own 2 yard line and forced a three-and-out.
Unfortunately, though, the Niners began to gain steam.
Purdy answered by converting two 3rd and longs on a 72-yard 49ers touchdown drive: a 30-yard Samuel wide receiver screen on 3rd and 15, and a 17-yard Christian McCaffrey screen pass on 3rd and 13.
Purdy capped the drive by hitting rookie receiver Ronnie Bell for a 9-yard TD pass to take a 10-3 lead with 7:49 to play in the second quarter. Banks was in coverage, and Oshane Ximines lined up offsides.
Then the game broke open in the home team’s favor.
Former Eagle Javon Hargrave beat left guard Shane Lemieux to sack Jones and force a second straight Giants three-and-out. And the 49ers drove 73 yards for a 4-yard McCaffrey touchdown to take a 17-3 lead with 1:40 left in the half.
McCaffrey’s backup, Elijah Mitchell, racked up 33 yards on the drive. And Purdy got lucky when Jackson batted a pass to Samuel into the air, only to see Bell come down with the fluttering ball for a 15-yard gain.
The 49ers also were aided by a horrendous roughing the passer penalty called against Williams for blasting Purdy to the ground and landing on him as he threw the ball to George Kittle for an 11-yard gain on 3rd and 12 from the 20-yard line.
But McCaffrey galloped easily into the end zone on first and goal from the 4-yard line. And on the Giants’ final drive of the half, Waller dropped a pass with daylight in front of him. So the Giants settled for a 57-yard Graham Gano bomb, his second field goal of the half.