EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Not long after Lawrence Tynes' kick went through the uprights in San Francisco, sending the New York Giants into a frenzy and on to the Super Bowl, Antrel Rolle remembers thanking God.
Not for the Super Bowl berth. That probably was his second thought. His initial reaction was to say thanks for "one of the toughest games" he ever played in finally coming to an end.
Like many of his teammates, Rolle was spent physically and emotionally after the Giants and San Francisco 49ers went toe to toe in the NFC Championship Game and refused to back down.
"One of the toughest games I have ever played, hands down," Rolle said. "It was extremely physical. It was a game of patience and execution.
"One false move and one false step would have cost you the game at that moment. Everything was just so intense. And the intensity just kept rising so much in that game."
The Giants return to Candlestick Park for the first time since their 20-17 overtime victory over the Niners in January. While the stakes aren't as high this time, the defending champions should come out of this game knowing where they stand after six games.
The 49ers (4-1) might be the best team in the NFC at the moment. After falling short of the Super Bowl, San Francisco attempted to upgrade its offense by adding Mario Manningham, Randy Moss and Brandon Jacobs, among others.
The result so far? The Niners have outscored their past two opponents by a score of 79-3, and had 621 yards of total offense in a 49-3 thrashing of the Bills.
"They have added some –- trick is not the right word –- some scheming problems to complement what they did last year," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said. "They got some things in there that look exactly one way and is complete opposite from what their play is supposed to look like. Their coaching staff has done a great job of putting in a scheme that can confuse defenses at times."
It will still start with stopping the run for the Giants. San Francisco is first in the NFL in rushing with 196.2 yards per game.
Stopping the run should help with time of possession -– a battle the Giants won in both meetings with the Niners last season –- and perhaps jump-start Perry Fewell's pass rush.
"We have to figure out and make the game more one-dimensional," Fewell said. "If we do a better job in the run game, we can help [the pass-rushers] by letting them do what they do best."
"If we stop the run, we'll take advantage of it," Fewell added. "We can't allow people to run the football and dictate what they want to do to us. We have to dictate what they can do to us."
That's easier said than done against San Francisco. Alex Smith is completing 68.6 percent of his passes, has eight touchdowns and only one interception.
Smith's top weapon, Vernon Davis, has burned the Giants. Davis had only six catches in two games against the Giants, but three of them were for touchdowns.
And with Michael Crabtree, Manningham and Moss, Smith has options.
Of course, the Giants have plenty of firepower on offense, but the key will be finding a way to give Eli Manning time to find his playmakers.
In the NFC Championship Game, Manning was sacked six times and officially hit 12 times, although it more likely was 20 times. Manning withstood the beating in what was the toughest performance of his career.
"We also had 64 dropbacks last year," Manning explained. "You throw the ball that many times, you're going to take hits. Hopefully, we can have a good balance of the run and pass."
While Ahmad Bradshaw is coming off a career-high 200 yards, he will find it a lot more difficult to run against San Francisco, which is ranked second in total defense.
But no matter what plays and schemes have been drawn up for this game, it probably will come down to the things that had Rolle being thankful for the NFC title game finally coming to an end.
Toughness, physicality and execution.
Rolle has played in two Super Bowls, yet he thinks last year's NFC Championship cage match was more intense.
"It was like, finally!" Rolle thought to himself when the Giants edged the Niners in January. "For some reason, that game might have the edge on the Super Bowls [in intensity]. There is a lot more at stake in a Super Bowl, obviously, but if you don't win that game you never make it there.
"That game had a little more of an intensity level than compared to the Super Bowl."