Colin Kaepernick’s confidence and rhythm rebounded dramatically by the end of Sunday night’s game against the New York Giants, but it wasn’t enough to overcome counterpart Eli Manning’s 441-yard effort.
Manning threw for three touchdowns, the last a 12-yarder to tight end Larry Donnell with 21 seconds remaining that gave New York a 30-27 win.
That touchdown erased an impressive fourth-quarter drive directed by Kaepernick. He connected with wide receiver Torrey Smith for a 25-yard gain and hit Anquan Boldin for 26 yards to help set up Carlos Hyde’s two-yard touchdown run that put the 49ers ahead 27-23 with 1:45 to play.
Smith and Boldin had been visibly upset during the 49ers’ meager offensive outings in the pre vious two games, illustrating the frustration with Kaepernick and the offensive scheme.
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On Sunday, however, Kaepernick bounced back, attacking the field deep and converting third-down throws. He completed 23 of 35 attempts for 262 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
“Kap played his butt off, man,” Boldin said afterward. “I take my hat off to him. I thought he called a real good game. There were situations where we had a play called, he saw the defense, and he changed it. It looked like he was having fun; he was himself. And that’s what I’m used to seeing.”
Boldin said he talked to his quarterback in the run-up to the game. His advice: “I told him I didn’t want him to put pressure on himself,” the veteran wide receiver said. “I told him to just put it on us. Let us make the plays for you.”
Kap played his butt off, man. I take my hat off to him. I thought he called a real good game. There were situations where we had a play called, he saw the defense, and he changed it. It looked like he was having fun; he was himself. And that’s what I’m used to seeing.
49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin on quarterback Colin Kaepernick
Nevertheless, the 49ers (1-4) lost their fourth in a row and fell three games behind the first-place Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West.
Early in the game, the 49ers’ play-callers appeared to be trying to rebuild Kaepernick’s confidence.
Hyde carried four times for seven yards on the opening drive and had eight carries in the first half, equaling the number of times he ran the ball in a Week 4 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
And Kaepernick was asked to make short throws, two of which were screens to Bruce Ellington that the wideout turned into gains of 30 and nine yards. But Ellington wasn’t used much on offense from that point, and the Giants began zeroing in on Hyde, who had only 12 rushing yards at halftime.
With Manning carving up the 49ers’ defense, the pressure was on Kaepernick to keep pace. He seemed to hit his stride during San Francisco’s first possession of the third quarter. With the Giants in single coverage against his receivers, Kaepernick hit Boldin on a 37-yard pass down the right side, one of the few times the quarterback pushed the ball deep in recent weeks.
Another long throw – this one a would-be 43-yard touchdown – seemed to be on target to Vance McDonald but landed just beyond the tight end’s fingertips.
The drive also included a run by tailback Jarryd Hayne, substituting for injured Reggie Bush, on third down deep in Giants territory when the 49ers needed to pick up one yard. The Aussie newcomer gained eight yards, the longest run of the season for the rookie, giving San Francisco a first down at the New York 3.
On the next play, Kaepernick sprinted to his right and threw a quick pass to Boldin at the pilon – the quarterback’s first touchdown pass since Week 2 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
After Manning’s 17-yard touchdown pass to Odell Beckham Jr. gave New York a 20-13 lead late in the third quarter, Kaepernick engineered an 80-yard drive during which he converted three third downs. The last, from the Giants’ 5, came when he found tight end Garrett Celek in the middle of the end zone. It was the first touchdown by a 49ers tight end since Week 1 of the 2014 season.
Hyde’s fourth-quarter touchdown gave the 49ers a four-point lead. But it also left Manning with nearly two minutes on the clock as well as three timeouts.
It appeared San Francisco would steal away with a win when Manning’s wobbler down the deep middle seemed to be scooped up by cornerback Tramaine Brock. After a replay review, however, officials ruled that Brock trapped the ball against the ground.
Another Manning completion, a short catch-and-run by running back Shane Vareen, picked up 24 yards, and a pass-interference call on cornerback Kenneth Acker put the ball on San Francisco’s 12-yard line.
From there, Manning’s perfectly thrown pass to Donnell fell just beyond the reach of linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who was in coverage.
It was Manning’s 54th attempt – a career high – and one that managed to upstage Kaepernick’s revival. Afterward, the 49ers quarterback said he never was as low as everyone supposed.
To me, I have to go out and play football. It’s a game at the end of the day. It’s not life and death.
49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick
“To me, I have to go out and play football,” he said. “It’s a game at the end of the day. It’s not life and death.”