SAN FRANCISCO — Antrel Rolle and the New York Giants studied Alex Smith so much they practically knew what was coming.
On one play in the third quarter, even running back Ahmad Bradshaw screamed from the sideline: “Trail! He’s watching you!” Rolle responded, pretended he was playing the deep ball and sliced in front of Kyle Williams on a short hook.
“He threw the ball right to me,” Rolle said of the San Francisco quarterback.
After a slow start this season, New York’s defense saved its best for the 49ers yet again.
Rolle intercepted two passes by Smith, Prince Amukamara picked off another and the Giants shut down San Francisco in a 26-3 victory Sunday in a rematch of last season’s NFC Championship Game.
“I think this is our most complete game all year long,” Rolle said.
After outscoring the Bills and Jets by a combined 79-3 the prior two weeks, the 49ers (4-2) met their match again. No overtime needed this time, and not much of Eli Manning, either.
Manning threw for 193 yards and one touchdown, Bradshaw ran for 116 yards and a score and New York (4-2) rode that dominant defense and four field goals by Lawrence Tynes to hand outspoken 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh the most lopsided loss of his tenure.
The 49ers had not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 22 home games. The last time one was Tennessee’s Chris Johnson, who ran for 135 yards on Nov. 8, 2009.
What a San Francisco treat.
“We were just waiting for them to play like we know they can play,” Manning said of New York’s defense. “They played outstanding. They played really well, flying around.”
The Giants churned out a 20-17 overtime win at rain-soaked Candlestick Park on Jan. 22, capitalizing on two fumbled punts by Williams en route to another Super Bowl title over the Patriots. All week, some San Francisco players talked about “unfinished business,” and Harbaugh added to the hype when he fired back a strongly worded statement criticizing Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, who had said All-Pro defensive end Justin Smith often “gets away with murder” holding offensive linemen.
For all the hoopla, the rematch was never close.
Amukamara’s interception in the second quarter started a surge of New York offense. Smith, who wore tape around his sprained middle finger that he said wasn’t an issue, lofted the pass too high and allowed Amukamara to leap underneath the ball before tight end Delanie Walker even had a chance at the Giants’ 33.
At one point in the first half, Manning completed eight consecutive passes for 142 yards and had San Francisco’s defense out of sorts. Domenik Hixon tip-toed the sideline to catch passes of 39 and 16 yards on consecutive third downs, and Victor Cruz followed with a 6-yard touchdown catch for a 7-3 lead.
“The statement made,” Cruz said, “is that we’re here to stay.”