SAN FRANCISCO For Alex Smith and his 49ers, the best thing about Sunday is that it's only four days removed from Thursday. They don't have time to sweat or sulk. They barely have enough time to prepare for the upcoming visit by the division rival Seattle Seahawks.
But there is no escaping that a 4-2 record is less imposing than 5-1, that the 49ers were flatter than central California farmland, and that the 26-3 loss to the New York Giants was the thud heard around the 'Stick.
"The coaches always let us know that we aren't the king of the NFL," said cornerback Carlos Rogers, "the Giants are. They won the title last year, and they are still the team to beat until somebody else wins the Super Bowl. Now we have to go back to work like we do every week."
Well, the 49ers have plenty of digging to do, because they were whipped in almost every facet of the game. Eli Manning exposed the secondary and exploited the athleticism of wideouts Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and Domenik Hixon, all of whom stretched and dived for at least one terrific grab.
The special teams allowed David Wilson's momentum-changing, 66-yard kickoff return just after intermission of a 10-3 ballgame. David Akers uncharacteristically missed field goals of 43 and 52 yards. The offensive line failed to keep the Giants from manhandling Smith, who was pressured into quick throws and bad decisions.
And Jim Harbaugh's use of backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick to give the 49ers a different look? When it catches opposing defenses off balance, Harbaugh is an innovative offensive mind. When it doesn't? When, say, Smith hits Randy Moss with a 55-yard strike and immediately is subbed by an understudy who promptly gets sacked? The scheming appears unnecessary and unwise and probably a little too cute.
"Perhaps," Harbaugh said candidly when asked afterward if his quarterback shuffle could have been disruptive. "The plan wasn't the best plan. Wasn't a great day for any of us."
It was Smith's worst day in a long, long, long time. This is the new and improved Alex Smith? Remember?
The eight-year veteran began the day as the NFL's top-rated quarterback and ranked in the top five in several of the pertinent statistical categories, including efficiency and execution in the red zone. And explosive, too. In his previous two games, his 49ers outscored the opposition 79-3.
A week ago, they enjoyed a record-setting day against the Buffalo Bulls, establishing a franchise record with 621 yards and a league mark for exceeding 300 yards in passing and rushing.
But the NFL is a notoriously brutal game. Those thuds can be punishing.
The Giants came to town and completely shook up the place. Shook up Smith, too, who already was nursing a sprained middle finger on his right hand.
Smith insisted the injury didn't hamper his grip or mechanics, but who knows? He threw more than a few wobbly balls, underthrew receivers on a number of occasions and, though he completed 19 of 30 passes for 200 yards, uncharacteristically threw three interceptions.
Safety Antrel Rolle accounted for two of the picks in the third quarter one intended for Mario Manningham, the other for Michael Crabtree both times benefiting from intense pressure on Smith and hurried throws into a crowd of defenders.
"I could tell at times we had him a little rattled," Rolle said later, "but every quarterback is going to get rattled sometimes."
Smith's first interception occurred with the 49ers leading 3-0 in the second quarter and preceded Manning's most impressive drive of the afternoon.
Attempting to elude the pass rush, Smith stepped into the pocket and tried to hit Delanie Walker on the left side but failed to put enough on the throw.
As the ball hung in the air, Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara jumped back in front of the 49ers tight end for the pick.
"They disguised their coverages well all day," said Walker, "but at that time, you've got to become a defender. I was there. I could have made a play on it. I should have batted it down."
Should have. Could have. Would have. Next time maybe. On this particular Sunday, it wasn't going to happen.