SAN FRANCISCO — Justin Smith emphatically pumped his fist after his game-saving defensive gem. Carlos Rogers danced after his second interception. And their coach, Jim Harbaugh, was perfectly polite in his postgame handshake before pointing and waving to a cheering crowd at Candlestick Park.
It has been nearly a decade since the 49ers could celebrate like this.
Smith batted down Eli Manning's pass in the closing seconds of the quarterback's latest comeback try, and the 49ers stopped the Giants on fourth down for a 27-20 victory in Sunday's NFC showdown to boost their chances of a first-round playoff bye.
"I just walked off the field with joy inside. Right now, we're 8-1," said Rogers, who had two interceptions for the first time in his seven seasons. "We stuck to it to the end, and last minute of the game made a play."
Manning completed two long fourth-down passes and got New York to the red zone with 1:53 left. But Smith thwarted the final shot with a leaping right-handed swat on fourth and 2 from the 10.
The 49ers, with a five-game lead in the NFC West, won without relying on star running back Frank Gore, whose franchise-record streak of five games with 100 yards rushing ended with a knee injury. He had zero yards for the first time as a pro.
"Someone twisted me up. I felt like I could have played," Gore said.
Harbaugh's team, winners of seven straight, matched the Super Bowl champion Packers for most wins in the NFL. The 49ers have had neither a winning record nor a playoff berth since 2002.
Vernon Davis leaped from the 4-yard line over safety Kenny Phillips to complete a go-ahead 31-yard touchdown catch from Alex Smith early in the fourth quarter. Kendall Hunter added a 27-yard TD in the fourth, just after Rogers' second pickoff.
"I thought we were in perfect control," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "I thought we would get there, score and send it into overtime and win it in overtime. We've done well in those situations and I expected to do well again."