Tyler Sash (39) of the New York Giants reacts after the Giants recovered the ball on a play that they punted it to the San Francisco 49ers in the second half during the NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park on January 22, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
The New York Giants, a team who finished the regular season with a 9-7 record, just bested the best of the NFL. Last week, the blew out the Green Bay Packers. This week, they pulled off an extremely difficult win, one that was not easy, to say the least.
The San Francisco 49ers put up a tremendous effort against the Giants. Their offense played well. Their defense played even better. But the New York Giants, played well enough, to topple the Niners at home, in a very noisy Candlestick Park.
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Even though the game was hosted in San Francisco, it started off in Big Blue style. Mark Bavaro, Rich Seubert and current FOX Sports analyst, Michael Strahan, were named honorary captains and present for the coin toss. It seemed to be a good omen for the Giants, as the won the coin toss and opted to give Frisco the ball first.
The weather - cold, wet, unforgiving. The game - a tooth and nail battle for every yard. New York's defense was able to force the 49ers to punt on their opening drive, limiting them to only one first down conversion. Eli Manning and co. took the field and began to open things up from their own sixteen-yard line. Eight plays later, on a third-and-eight, defensive end Ray McDonald sacked and stripped Manning of the football, forcing the Giants to punt the ball for the first time of the game.
Jason Pierre-Paul batted down Alex Smith's first pass of San Francisco's next drive. New York was not so lucky on the next play. Smith caught Antrel Rolle sleeping, fired off a touchdown pass to Vernon Davis. The play spanned a seventy-three yard field and took thirteen seconds. 49ers 7, Giants 0.
The G-Men began their next drive on their own thirty-one yard line. They converted on downs twice. Manning didn't have much luck converting the next one. After Eli had a pass tipped on third down, Brandon Jacobs got the ball on a fourth-and-one, at San Francisco's thirty-four yard line, but was stopped short. New York turned the ball over on downs.
Big Blue's defense forced the niners to a three-and-out on the next drive, putting Eli Manning back into the director's chair and direct he did. Manning led his team down the field, with an equal mix of run and pass to the end zone, for the first Giants points of the day. Manning hooked up with Bear Pascoe for a six-yard touchdown to start off the second quarter. Giants 7, 49ers 7.
The Niners responded with an eleven-yard drive that included an illegal hands to the face penalty on Aaron Ross, an unnecessary roughness call on Vernon Davis and a San Fran delay of game. The 49ers were forced to punt the ball back to the Giants. The next two drives, for both teams, were uneventful.
With one minute and thirty-four seconds left in the first half, the Giants got the ball back. In vintage Eli fashion, he began to lead his team down the field in an all to familiar two-minute drill. No surprises on this drive. It was all Manning-to-Cruz to put the Giants within field goal range. Nine plays with no timeouts and five-seconds left on the clock, Lawrence Tynes put three points on the board to give the Giants their first lead of the game. Giants 10, 49ers 7. End of the first half.
The third quarter can be summed up in one word - defense, defense, defense. Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul both got to Alex Smith, splitting a sack between them. However, the Giants' defense could not hold the 49ers offense back entirely. On a three play drive, Smith found, who else, Vernon Davis for another 49ers touchdown, regaining the lead. 49ers 14, Giants 10.
The Giants were forced to punt the ball back to the Niners on their first possession of the fourth quarter. Steve Weatherford boomed the ball fifty-six yards. The ball bounced off the turf and hit, San Fran's, Kyle Williams in the knee. The officials ruled the ball down and 49ers ball. Tom Coughlin threw the red flag and, in a rare occurrence these days due to questionable officiating, was awarded the reversal. Giants recovered the ball on San Francisco's twenty-nine yard line.
The botched 49ers punt proved to be a huge break for the G-men. The paint was not far away. Eli hooked up with Hakeem Nicks on a big third-and-seven to keep the drive alive. David Baas was called for holding on the next play, adding another ten yards onto the Giants' trip to the end zone. Manning found Mario Manningham deep in the end zone on a third-and-fifteen. Manningham had a relatively quiet game prior to that. New York took back the lead. Giants 17, 49ers 10.
Jim Harbaugh's boys responded on the next drive, although not in the manner he may have liked. Smith showed off some of his fancy footwork, scrambling for seventeen yards. Kenny Phillips was called for illegal use of hands, to help keep the 49ers in business. Smith continued to work his way down field, only to be stopped short by the Big Blue Wall. The Niners were in field goal position and took full advantage of it, tying up the game. Giants 17, 49ers 17.
The pressure on Eli Manning never stopped. The 49ers brought it to him all throughout the second half. Unfortunately, the Giants didn't help themselves much. The penalties mounted and worked in San Francisco's favor. New York's defense never quit, though. They did not allow Alex Smith to convert a third down all day. However, there was a third down made after the game clock expired. That did not help them or register. Fourth quarter finished. Bring on the overtime. Giants 17, 49ers 17.
The team captains, jerseys ripped and muddied, met in the middle of a very rainy Candlestick Park to flip the coin once again. The Giants called tails. Tails it was and the Giants opted to receive. They went a quick three-and-out.
The Giants defense came out next and played up. Smith's first pass was incomplete. JPP came up with a huge stop on second-down, knocking Frank Gore back two-yards. Big Blue held the Niners and forced them into another third down situation. New York continued to hold San Francisco to zero third down conversions for the day.
Eli Manning was operating under heavy pressure, especially in the overtime period. He was able to get a few things done but the Niners defense forced a New York punt. It was that punt that proved to be the turning point of the game.
Weatherford punted thirty-seven yards down field. Jacquian Williams knocked the bll out of Kyle Williams' hands. Devin Thomas, who fought every his way down the field, recovered the ball. Five plays later and the New York Giants found themselves on the way to Super Bowl XLVI. Lawrence Tynes kicked a thirty-one yard field goal to solidify another postseason victory for the Big Blue. Giants 20, 49ers 17.
This was certainly the kind of playoff game you would expect from two historic teams such as these, at this time of year. Each team left their heart and soul on the field today. Ultimately, the New York Giants had more of what was needed to pull through with the win.
The next stop on this Giants journey is Indianapolis and yes, there will be a Manning playing in Lucas Oil Stadium. It just won't be Peyton. THE GIANTS ARE GOING TO THE SUPER BOWL!