NFL Nation: 2012 NFC Championship Game Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: Giants 20, 49ers 17 OT

January, 22, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO -- A couple of thoughts about the New York Giants' 20-17 overtime victory over the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday at Candlestick Park.

What it means: The Giants, who lost four games in a row in late November and early December, who were 7-7 after their second loss of the season to the Washington Redskins, who finished 27th in the NFL in total defense and 32nd in rush offense, are going to the Super Bowl. It’s a testament to the greatness of their quarterback and an organizational philosophy of perseverance and self-belief. These are not the same Giants that struggled through so much of this season. This is a healthy, hungry confident bunch of Giants who believe no one can beat them.

Turnovers kill: The 49ers were plus-28 in turnover margin in the regular season, plus-4 in their first playoff game and had 11 total turnovers in 17 games this season prior to Sunday night. But they turned it over twice in this game -- a muffed punt and a fumble on a punt return by backup return man Kyle Williams -- and the second of those set the Giants up in position to win the game in overtime. The Giants did not turn the ball over once in this game, and for the second week in a row they won a road playoff game by winning the turnover battle against a team that almost never loses the turnover battle. The Packers, who they beat last week, were plus-24 in the regular season.

It's all on Eli: Quarterback Eli Manning has been the Giants' unquestioned MVP this year, and this game was a clear demonstration of the fact that this year's Giants' offense runs through him. The Giants tried to run the ball, and they got a couple of yards here and a couple there against the toughest run defense in the league. But it seemed like the main purpose of their running was to keep the 49ers' defense off of Manning and the passing game. When Manning was on his game and completing third-down passes, the Giants' offense was tough to stop Sunday. When the Niners kept stopping him on third down in the third quarter, the Giants' offense bogged down. And when Manning converted two third downs on the short touchdown drive that followed the 49ers' muffed punt in the fourth quarter, the Giants' offense came back to life.

Cruz control: Manning completed passes to eight different receivers, but second-year breakout star Victor Cruz was his favorite target. Cruz had eight catches on 125 yards in the first half alone and finished with 142 yards on 10 catches after the 49ers justifiably began devoting extra attention to him. You never know who's going to be the star in the Giants' receiving corps from one week to the next, but after two weeks in which Hakeem Nicks was the big-play guy, Cruz was the man in the NFC Championship Game.

Penalties kill: The Giants committed a number of bad penalties that cost them chances to get the 49ers off the field. They did a pretty good job of stopping the 49ers' offense for the game's first 52 minutes, allowing just the two big pass plays to Vernon Davis for touchdowns. But four of their penalties gave the Niners first downs, including a defensive holding penalty on the fourth-quarter drive on which the 49ers tied the game at 17-17.

Third and wrong: The Giants' defense was especially tough when it needed. The 49ers were 1-for-13 on third-down conversions, converting only right at the very end of regulation when the Giants were in ultra-prevent mode with no time left on the clock. The 49ers' defense was absolutely phenomenal in the second half, beating the Giants' offensive line up front over and over again. The Giants converted five of their first six third downs in the game, but then just two of their next 14 after that. Had the muffed punt not given the Giants a short field, it's possible the Niners could have pitched a second-half shutout. But the offense offered San Francisco little help, and a big reason for that was the job the Giants did against them on third downs.

What's next: The Giants will play the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI on Feb. 5 in Indianapolis. It’s the fifth Super Bowl appearance in Giants history. They are 3-1 in their previous four, including a victory over the then-unbeaten Patriots four years ago in Super Bowl XLII.

Rapid Reaction: Giants 20, 49ers 17 OT

January, 22, 2012

Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 20-17 defeat to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park:

What it means: The 49ers missed a chance to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLVI thanks largely to two critical miscues in the return game, both by second-year backup punt returner Kyle Williams. Their defense played heroically at times but was unable to capitalize on several opportunities to force turnovers. With the offense struggling on third down, the 49ers simply couldn't persevere. This game will haunt the 49ers for years. How many times will San Francisco get to play a 9-7 team at home for a berth in the Super Bowl?

What I liked: Vernon Davis got open early for a 73-yard touchdown reception even though the Giants knew he was the one player most likely to beat them deep. Davis came through again in the third quarter with a go-ahead 28-yard scoring reception after a slick outside-in move to find a hole in the coverage. …

Frank Gore found running room. The 49ers’ coaching staff supplemented the ground game effectively with designed runs for Alex Smith. And the misdirection run to spring Kendall Hunter for a 14-yard gain was beautifully conceived. …

San Francisco’s pass rush improved in the second half, playing a big role in the team’s ability to take the lead and hold it heading into the fourth quarter. Aldon Smith and Justin Smith started getting to Eli Manning, allowing the 49ers to stay in the game even though their offense wasn’t sustaining drives. …

Williams’ 40-yard kickoff return midway through the fourth quarter gave the 49ers good field position and gave the 49ers a needed jolt. Smith followed with a 17-yard scramble. Delanie Walker's block on Kenny Phillips to help spring Hunter to the 5-yard line was reminiscent of the block Joe Staley threw for Smith last week. ...

The 49ers' defense stepped up repeatedly late in the game, especially when Smith sacked Manning.

What I didn’t like: The 49ers were miserable on third down, asking too many favors from their defense. They did not succeed on a third-down conversion until the final play of regulation. ...

Williams’ indecision on a punt return cost the 49ers when the ball bounced off his knee with San Francisco holding a 14-10 lead and 11:06 remaining in the fourth quarter. Williams, subbing for injured veteran Ted Ginn Jr., couldn’t get out of the way after deciding at the last moment to bail on the return. The Giants took over at the San Francisco 28-yard line, then scored the go-ahead touchdown on third-and-15 from the 17. …

Then, after the 49ers' defense held in overtime, Williams fumbled during a punt return. The Giants recovered and kicked the winning 31-yard field goal.

Early in the game, the 49ers couldn’t get pressure on third down, giving Manning ample time to find open receivers and sustain drives. Manning completed eight passes for 125 yards to Victor Cruz in the first half. …

San Francisco played conservatively on offense shortly before halftime, letting the clock run down and settling for predictable runs. The Giants got the ball back and scored a field goal to take a 10-7 lead heading into halftime. …

The 49ers had no third-down conversions in the first three quarters. Their wide receivers were generally poor to invisible. …

The 49ers’ usually hard-hitting secondary struggled to get clear shots on the Giants’ receivers. That made it tougher for San Francisco to force turnovers. When the pass-rush improved in the second half, the 49ers missed an opportunity to pick off a pass when defenders collided, injuring cornerback Tarell Brown.

“X” factor a no-show: Those figuring the 49ers might need receiver Michael Crabtree to step up kept waiting and waiting, without results. Giants cornerback Corey Webster shut down Crabtree. The 49ers have been thin at wide receiver without Josh Morgan (injured reserve), Braylon Edwards (released) or Ginn (inactive due to injury). Crabtree, an occasional force for the 49ers late in the regular season, did not make an impact in the passing game.

Controversial call: Referee Ed Hochuli and crew ruled that Ahmad Bradshaw's forward progress was stopped before the 49ers forced him to fumble and recovered deep in Giants territory. That play could not be reviewed. A 49ers recovery in that situation -- tie game, a little more than two minutes remaining -- would have been huge. The head linesman threw his bean bag and made the ruling decisively. The question was whether the ruling was made hastily.

Interesting decision: The 49ers opted to punt on fourth-and-inches from the Giants’ 47-yard line while holding a 14-10 lead early in the fourth quarter. They were running the ball well, but their defense was also gaining the upper hand at that point in the game. Punting and playing for field position showed the 49ers thought their punting and defense could hold. The decision paid off for the 49ers when Aldon Smith’s sack helped limit the Giants to a three-and-out. But the defensive stop also precipitated Williams’ muffed punt.

Injuries of note: The 49ers lost left guard Mike Iupati to an ankle injury early in the game. Iupati returned, but was limping around at times. A knee injury kept Ginn from playing. Brown was down on the field for an extended period after colliding with safety Dashon Goldson. Medical personnel brought out a stretcher board, but Brown walked off slowly, with assistance. Brown suffered thigh and head injuries, according to the 49ers. Walker played for the first time since suffering a broken jaw at Seattle in Week 16.

What’s next: The 49ers head toward the draft needing help at wide receiver in particular.



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