Despite taking differing routes to their stellar records, both the Giants and 49ers still have this nagging feeling that their combined 13-3 record doesn’t garner much respect.
The Niners’ ascension might be the league’s biggest surprise. They have a rookie head coach in Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Alex Smith, who despite having a career season, was thought to be a lame duck going in to this season. The 49ers haven’t had this much success since the mid-2000s, which is why it’s hard for experts, fans and opposing players alike to buy into their dominance this year.
Just don’t count any of the Giants as non-believers.
“We respect them because we know it’s hard to go 7-1 in this league and play at the level they’re playing right now. They’re a great football team that’s well coached with a lot of talent,” said running back Brandon Jacobs. “Take nothing away from them [because] they’ve earned everything they’ve gotten. They’ve beaten teams we’ve beaten and they’re legit.”
“I really don’t understand [the lack of respect], but maybe it’s too many recent memories of them not being a high-performance team,” Kiwanuka said. “But when you’re lined up across from somebody you have to play them for how they’re playing that week and not how they’ve played in the past. You have to play everybody as hard as you can because anybody can beat you … when you talk about a team that has won seven games it’s not a fluke [because] they’re doing it for a reason.”
The reason why the Niners are doing it is obvious — running back Frank Gore. Every Big Blue defender respects the seventh-year vet and will do everything in their power to slow down the guy who is currently in the midst of a franchise record-setting streak for most consecutive games with 100 yards rushing (five).
Kiwanuka, who will rotate between starting strongside linebacker and rush end on obvious passing downs, said Gore has their attention — and respect. He added he expects an old-fashioned type of smashmouth game and is looking forward to the challenge.
“It’s power [running game] and they’re going to try to run it up in there,” Kiwanuka said. “For us, because we’ve had problems against the run, it’s critical that everyone is playing technically sound. That means if you have a gap, take care of your gap. End of story. I don’t want to hear any arguments after the play saying, ‘I thought this and I thought that.’ Just get in your gap and we’ll be fine.”
Fellow starting linebacker Michael Boley agreed, saying he too looks forward to this rare throwback test.
“I’m not going to over-hype this, but they’re a good team [and] we have to step it up because they’re a sound and physical team,” Boley said, adding the team who sets the physical tone the earliest should be able to control things. “If a team is going to run the ball, they’re going to run the ball, so whoever hits you first [has a better chance to win]. … We have to match their intensity.”
BIG BLUE notes:
»Boley was amused — but ultimately unfazed — as to why analysts and fans don’t give either team much credit for their pristine records: “It is what it is. Players play. All that stuff on the outside — people thinking a team is a good team or not — is just talk. The games are decided on Sunday. We know it’s all talk and their opinion.”
Boley allowed a broad smile when talking about the Giants’ hopes of making Alex Smith, the Niners’ much-maligned quarterback, beat them. Smith is having a career season so far, but he’s also not asked to do too much. So, while not trying to sound disrespectful, Boley wryly grinned when discussing how important it is to make Smith carry the load: “They want to run [so] we have to play a strong, smart game and stop the run … we want to put the game in [Smith’s] hands.”
»Kiwanuka was excited to talk about the prospects of making the 49ers one-dimensional on offense, hopefully forcing the Smith of old to carry the load. Kiwanuka said first thing’s first though, as Big Blue must stop the run to make that happen: “I enjoy standing up now, but I want to put us in a position where we have to rush the passer and get sacks [because] that’s the fun part. But you have to earn the right to rush the passer, meaning you have to stop the run first. I’m the run-stopping linebacker, which means first I must stop the run and then I get to have some fun.”
»Jacobs said if he gets the start Sunday he won’t turn this into a personal battle to see if he can out-rush Gore. Jacobs said he’s going to stay within himself and put the team first: “We just need to win the game. I need to do enough to help our team win the game. I’m not trying to compete against Frank Gore. He’s a great back. Not taking anything away from myself, but I’m just trying to do whatever my team needs.”
Jacobs went on to say that although the running game has disappointed recently, Big Blue can’t get away from it too much: “We haven’t done what has needed to be all year long and we need to do better in the run game. Right now they’re hanging in there [against the run]. They’re a linebacker defense [3-4 front] and a really good defensive front, but anything is possible.”
» Count Gore as another player who could care less what outsiders think about their 7-1 mark. He agreed with many of the Giants — particularly Jacobs — who said the team only focuses on themselves, and not trying to please the masses: “[Critics] still don’t give us the props, but we don’t worry about that. We are coming to practice trying to get better everyday and trying to get better every Sunday. As long as we see ourselves getting better going forward, we are fine with that.”
Gore added he’s confident that people are going to have to wait a long time to see his Niners fall on their face: “I think so, but we don’t pay any attention to that,” he said when asked if he thinks people are waiting for the other shoe to drop. “We are trying to get better every day over here, trying to be a family and working hard. We are not worried about anybody outside of our camp.”
He finished by saying he has the utmost respect for the Giants’ run defense and doesn’t see the porous numbers for the defense as an indicator: “I feel whatever they put their minds to, they can do it. They have some great talent down there. Their D-line has talent. I respect them and their team. It is going to be a great game on Sunday. They are playing great ball and we are playing great ball. We should put on a show for everybody.”
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8 for breaking injury updates over the weekend and leading up to the game.