The New York Giants are in the 2012 Super Bowl! No one would have believed that to be possible a few weeks ago, but here they are. As we always do, let's review Sunday's dramatic 20-17 NFC Championship Game victory over the San Francisco 49ers 'Kudos & Wet Willies' style.
Kudos To ...
Devin Thomas: San Francisco punt returner Kyle Williams made two critical mistakes, and it was the hustling, alert Thomas who capitalized both times. The first time it took a Tom Coughlin challenge to rule that a bouncing Steve Weatherford punt had, indeed, glanced off Williams' knee. Thomas scooped it up, leading to a fourth-quarter touchdown that gave the Giants a 17-14 lead. In overtime, Thomas fought his way downfield and fell on Williams' fumble, setting up the game-winning field goal.
Eli Manning: The great Giants quarterback went 32-for-58 for 316 yards and two touchdowns. Probably most importantly, no interceptions, although a couple of his throws could have been picked off. Manning took a savage beating from the 49ers, being sacked six times and drilled countless other times. He kept standing in the pocket and giving the Giants opportunities, though. If you want to argue that Manning is a) not a great quarterback or b) not the best quarterback in franchise history your credibility is automatically shot.
Jacquian Williams: The rookie linebacker began the play that ultimately gave the Giants their Super Bowl opportunity, stripping the ball from Kyle Williams of San Francisco on that fateful overtime punt return.
Tom Coughlin: The Giants are in the Super Bowl for the second time under his stewardship, a place no one thought they could be just a few weeks ago. Coughlin's resolve and his belief in his team is a big part of the reason why.
Related: Grades From SI.com
Steve Weatherford: The Giants punter outkicked had a great day, neutralizing the advantage the 49ers seemed to have entering the game with All-Pro punter Andy Lee. Weatherford punted 12 times for an average of 46.4 yards per punt and a net average of 40.6 yards. He dropped two punts inside the 20-yard line and his long for the day was a 57-yarder. Oh, and a great post-game celebration from Weatherford, too.
Lawrence Tynes: A field goal to send the Giants to the Super Bowl. You want to think a 31-yarder is a chip shot in that situation, but if you watched Billy Cundiff botch a 32-yarder at the end of the Baltimore Ravens loss to the New England Patriots you know better. Tynes can make you shake your head sometimes, but he has always come through for the Giants when it has counted most.
Victor Cruz: What is there to say? The young man just keeps getting open and keeps making plays. Ten catches for 142 yards, including a 36-yarder to set up a touchdown. Here is something I can say. Thank you, Steve Smith, for going to Philadelphia and getting out of Cruz's way. You never would have thought so at the time, but Smith bolting for the Eagles is the best thing that could have happened for the Giants. So, 'kudos' to him, too.
Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham: Five catches and 55 yards for Nicks, who was overshadowed by Cruz but was also important. Manningham made just one catch, but it was a beautiful and important one, a 17-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Ahmad Bradshaw: Not impressive numbers running (74 yards on 20 carries), but Bradshaw fought for and earned every inch of those 74 yards. He also caught six passes for 52 yards.
The Defensive Line: Really impossible to single out individuals. Jason Pierre-Paul was his usual presence. Justin Tuck made some plays, wounded shoulder and all. Osi Umenyiora made his presence felt. Mathias Kiwanuka got in on a sack while lined up as a defensive tackle. The Giants didn't exactly stop the San Francisco running game (150 yards, 5.4 per carry), but they didn't get killed by it, either. In the second half they turned up the pressure on 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, as well.
Travis Beckum and Bear Pascoe: A Beckum sighting! In the NFC Championship Game! Wow! Beckum had a career-best four catches. Granted, he had only 16 yards receiving, but his play helped the Giants offense. Pascoe scored the first touchdown of his NFL career on a six-yard reception from Manning. To win titles it takes contributions from the entire roster, and these two are another example of that.
Wet Willies To ...
Even though I am in a great mood today (why shouldn't I be?) I can still find a couple of 'Wet Willies' to hand out.
The Giants Offensive Line: Yes, the San Francisco front seven on defense is outstanding. And yes, the Giants are in the Super Bowl. The Giants, though, have serious long-term issues to address on their offensive line. That group nearly got Manning killed on Sunday. He was sacked six times and hit probably a dozen more. Without his ability to move deftly in the pocket he could have been sacked twice as many times. As we have seen so many times this season, there was rarely anywhere for Giants running backs to go, except to the ground. I'm not even going to bother going over the personnel issues. I don't want to ruin my good mood.
The Giants Secondary: This group had one job on Sunday -- do not give up big plays to San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis. Surrendering a 73-yard touchdown thanks to a mistake by Antrel Rolle and a 28-yard touchdown on a miscommunication between Kenny Phillips and Corey Webster was not what the Giants had in mind. I don't even want to think about the two or three deep throws Smith missed when he had receivers run past the Giants secondary, either.