Jan 252012
 
 January 25, 2012  Posted by  Game Previews and Reviews
Jacquian Williams (57), New York Giants (January 22, 2012)

Jacquian Williams Strips the Football in Overtime – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants 20 (12-7) – San Francisco 49ers 17 (14-4)

by rnargi for BigBlueInteractive.com

Game Summary

The New York Giants persevered through a wet, windy day at Candlestick Park and defeated the San Francisco 49ers in overtime to advance to their 5th Super Bowl in Indianapolis on February 5, 2012.  New York earned the right to take on the AFC Champion New England Patriots in a rematch of Super Bowl XLII.

DT Chris Canty predicted a bloodbath for this contest, and it surely was.  Both defenses anchored into the muddy field and tried to will their respective teams to victory.  In the end, as it often times does, this game came down to the team who made the fewest mistakes, and on Sunday it was the Giants who came out of the dreary conditions with the fewest.

If you were to compare this game to another sport, it would be boxing.  This was a heavyweight match-up the likes that hasn’t been seen in the post-season in some time.  The 49ers threw haymakers and roundhouses, connecting on a couple but missing on others.  The Giants threw jab after jab with a few uppercuts thrown in, scoring points but unable to win rounds due to the big hits coming from the 49ers.

The game began in dramatic fashion.  After an initial 1st down off a busted screen where the Giants defense had RB Frank Gore strung out but allowed him to get away, the 49ers punted.  New York was able to advance the ball to their own 43 yard line despite getting nothing on the ground and 3 incomplete passes.  On 3rd and 8, San Francisco brought a blitz and it was picked up nicely.  DT Ray McDonald beat G Chris Snee cleanly on an outside move and when QB Eli Manning stepped up into the pocket, McDonald was there to strip sack him.  Fortunately for the Giants, ILB NaVorro Bowman was unable to pounce on the loose ball because RG Kevin Boothe fought him off and the ball squibbed right to RT Kareem McKenzie.  Had Boothe not fought for that ball, SF would have been set up at the Giants 33 yard line.  Instead, the Giants were able to punt.

Going into the game, it was common knowledge that the 49ers feast off turnovers and not allowing one there was absolutely huge.  The Giants did not fumble another ball.

On the ensuing drive, on a 2nd and 10 play from their own 27 yard line, San Francisco hit their first big play of the day.  TE Vernon Davis released unmolested off the line on a wheel route up the right sideline and went right by S Antrel Rolle.  QB Alex Smith made a beautiful throw, hitting Davis in stride at the New York 44 yard line and Davis did the rest.  It appeared he may have stepped out of bounds at the New York 33 yard line but it was determined on replay that there was no clear angle to determine whether he did or not.

In the first half, New York had 5 drives.  Four of them was successful at least from the standpoint of clock management and the amount of plays they were able to run.  The Giants ran an astounding 42 offensive plays to San Francisco’s 22 in the first half.  Despite having drives of 10, 10, 9 and 9 plays, the Giants were only able to come away with 10 points.  But New York’s defense got plenty of rest which was sorely needed.  The Giants controlled the clock for 18 minutes in the first half to the 49ers’ 12 minutes.

San Francisco also had 5 drives, but only one was over 5 plays (9, resulting in a punt).  New York forced two 3 and outs and SF also had the 2 play touchdown drive.  Despite completing just 2 of 7 passes in the half and running for just 45 yards with their backs, San Francisco was in the game because of the long touchdown combined with New York being unable to convert a 3rd and 1 and 4th and 1 from the 49ers 34 yard line.

Frankly, other than one play, New York’s defense utterly dominated the 49ers in the first half.  Though the Giants moved the ball fairly well, they were only up by 3 following a great 2 minute drive engineered by Manning.

The second half and overtime were a defensive war.

New York gained just 105 net yards and 5 first downs in the second half, while San Francisco gained 191 net yards and 10 first downs.  Neither team was able to sustain drives, but another quick strike touchdown gave the 49ers the lead.

In overtime, New York did move into 49er territory on their second possession but were forced to punt when Manning was sacked on a 3rd and 3 play from the 49er 46 yard line.

On the day, New York ran 90 offensive plays to 57 by San Francisco, but only out-gained them by 24 yards.  San Francisco out-gained the Giants on the ground by nearly a 2-1 margin, and again the QB did a lot of damage as Smith scrambled and ran for 42 yards on 6 attempts.  While San Francisco was efficient on the ground, helped by the Smith yardage to a 5.4 ypc average, they were not through the air, completing just 12 of 26 passes.  The Giants had the opposite problem, gaining most of their yardage through the air but gaining a lackluster 3.3 ypc on the ground.  San Francisco only got in the green zone once, never getting into a goal to go situation and came away with just a field goal on that drive.  New York managed to get into the green zone 4 times and came away with 2 touchdowns and 2 field goals.  New York was 1 of 2 in goal to go situations but the Giants were not attempting to get into the end zone on the final drive of the game, instead opting to set up the game winning field goal.  Finally, New York held the ball for more than 11 minutes longer than San Francisco.

In order to win, the Giants knew it could not afford to turn the ball over.  San Francisco had an early opportunity to cash in on the Manning fumble and later could have had a couple of interceptions but their secondary didn’t communicate and caused the ball to fall harmlessly to the ground.  New York also had a golden opportunity to get the ball deep in 49ers territory but DE Osi Umenyiora was unable to corral a muffed end around.  Later, CB Corey Webster and LB Jacquian Williams were unable to hold onto possible interceptions.

While both offenses did a very good job not turning the ball over on offense despite the poor weather conditions, the same can’t be said for the 49ers special teams.  San Francisco was missing their fastest WR and dangerous return man Ted Ginn, Jr. to injury and was replaced on the punt team by Kyle Williams.  The two biggest turning points in the game for the Giants’ fortunes were a punt that glanced off Williams’ knee and then later in overtime he fumbled a punt giving New York the ball on a short field.

Offense

Right from the outset, weather be damned, it was completely obvious that the Giants were going to attack the 49ers through the air.  New York dropped back to pass an incredible 64 times on Sunday.  As noted, the Giants simply got very little going in the running game and if not for the 18 yards gained on the final drive by Ahmad Bradshaw the numbers would have been horrific.

The Giants attacked the 49ers most often short in the middle of the field, and only attempted to go deep a couple of times.  Additionally, New York did try to get the screen game going to the WRs, to HB D.J. Ware split wide, and to Bradshaw and TE Travis Beckum conventionally but there was very little success there.

After converting 5 of 9 third downs in the first half, the Giants were only able to convert 2 of their final 12 attempts.  The two that they did convert came at the most crucial time in the game, on the 4th quarter go ahead touchdown drive.

New York moved the ball well in the first half but only had 10 points to show for it, but in the second half and overtime they were shut down nearly across the board and only scored on two short fields.  Most of the problem was a ferocious San Francisco pass rush that sacked Eli Manning 6 times in the game including 4 times in the second half and overtime.  On the day, Manning was officially hit 12 times but it appeared to be much more than that.  FOX said he was knocked down 12 times and hit 20 times.

Quarterback

Eli Manning once again put the Giants on his back.  Despite being under intense pressure much of the game, Eli was solid passing the ball.  The thing is, his stats do not tell the story of his game on Sunday.  Manning was simply unwilling to do anything that would hurt his team.  Of the 64 times he dropped back, there were only two passes he probably should not have thrown.  The first was a near interception when Hakeem Nicks broke outside on a pass that two 49ers converged on, but fortunately knocked into each other.  The second was a deep ball to Victor Cruz in overtime that CB Carlos Rogers was unable to gather in after he was hit by a safety.  Add in the one early fumble that the Giants recovered and those were pretty much the only mistakes Manning made all day.

Manning moved well in the pocket, bought time, and either took sacks or threw the ball away when he didn’t have what he wanted.  Manning has no problem throwing to his receivers when it’s one on one and frankly he expects his receivers to win.  A good case in point was the 2nd and 10 play on the final drive of the first half.  The Giants, at the snap, appeared to be in max protect (two TEs and a RB staying in to block) but Ballard and Ware both chipped and released.  Victor Cruz was lined up in the slot working one on one against Carlos Rogers who had inside leverage on the in-cut by Cruz.  Manning stepped up in the pocket, avoided two rushers as he slid to his left, and threw to Cruz on the outside of his cut.  Cruz stepped back to the outside and went up to catch the pass for a 1st and 10 at the SF 21 yard line.  It was an amazing throw and an amazing adjustment.

Manning also made several other heady plays.  One was having the presence of mind to wait for the field goal team to get back off the field before spiking the ball before the first Giants’ field goal.  Tynes just got that one inside the left upright so who knows what 5 extra yards would have done to the kick.  Another was to lateral the football to Ahmad Bradshaw as he was getting sacked, avoiding a huge loss.  Additionally, on their last drive in regulation, Manning nearly got the team into field goal range by once again avoiding pressure and finding Bradshaw down the left sideline for a 30 yard gain near midfield.

Despite the pressure that Eli was under, his stats in the 4th quarter and overtime were actually pretty good.  Manning was 12 for 20 for 100 yards 1TD and was sacked twice following the first muffed punt by Kyle Williams.

On the day, Manning hit 8 different receivers and targeted 11.  It really was “all in” for the offense on Sunday.  Manning finished with 32 completions on 58 attempts (55%) for 316 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Manning’s passer rating was 82.3 and his Total QBR was just 30.9.  The T-QBR is an efficiency rating designed by ESPN and though it has its flaws does take into account a lot of factors that led to the low rating.  For a detailed analysis, take a look at this link.  One thing that’s not taken into account is the will to win and the other intangibles such as the ability to make critical plays in the clutch.  Eli has these intangibles in spades, so ratings be damned.

Running Backs

New York was facing the toughest front 7 against the run in the entire league Sunday on a very wet and sloppy field.  San Francisco came into the game giving up just 74 yards on average rushing per game and had only allowed 3 rushing touchdowns all season.  Even so, the Giants kept plugging.  On the day, the Giants attempted 25 rushes and it was clear early that the onus was going to be on Ahmad Bradshaw to produce whatever he could.

Bradshaw rushed 20 times for 74 yards, a 3.7 ypc average.  His long on the day was just 9 yards.  Bradshaw got most of his yardage via the cutback, rarely running to where the design of the play began.  Notably, he made one big mistake early in the 3rd quarter.  After opening the first drive with a 9 yard run (again on a cutback), the Giants were in a 21 set (two TEs, two RBs, one WR) with Cruz in the offset slot behind Pascoe.  The 49ers countered with five men on the line, 2 linebackers lined up between the LDE and NT with two CBs playing off coverage and a 2 deep safeties.  That’s only 7 in the box against essentially 7 linemen and a fullback.  Ballard came in motion from the right to settle in at the FB position.  At the snap, the entire right side of the line did a great job of neutralizing the 49er linemen. Ballard led directly up the middle and stoned the strong side linebacker.  On the left side, LT David Diehl got caught on a stunt by the RDE.  LG Kevin Boothe originally took the RDT, pushing him into Diehl.  Boothe passed off the RDT, and engaged the RDE.  Had Bradshaw made an initial decision to just hit the hole behind Ballard, he may have gotten the first but certainly would have made it very close.  The hole was there.  Instead, Bradshaw bounced left and RDT was able to disengage from Boothe to the outside and stuff Bradshaw for about half a yard loss.  The play was huge because on 3rd down the Giants were unable to convert as they tried to throw a quick flare to Bradshaw, ending their first drive of the second half.  That was a huge momentum shift at the time.
Bradshaw also caught 6 of 8 passes for 52 yards, but 30 of them came on one play.  New York tried to get him out on a screen a couple times with no success.

HB Brandon Jacobs was not used much in this game, carrying just 5 times for 13 yards and catching just 2 passes for 8 yards.  Jacobs was unable to convert an early 4th and 1 at the 49ers 34 yard line.  As Eric from BBI posted, “On the 4th-and-1. A DB (#31) (note:  that was Donte Whitner) shot into the gap and Hynoski picked him up. McKenzie took out his man and so did (the tight end). Bowman came flying in low on Jacobs. Cruz couldn’t cut him off. Great play by Bowman, but you can also say Jacobs should have not gone down so easily.”

Basically what happened was Whitner run blitzed, catching the Giants off guard.  Hynoski’s job is to clear Bowman on that play but as Eric pointed out he had to pick up Whitner, who flew to the hole.  Hynoski did an impressive job of clearing Whitner, giving Jacobs a chance to beat Bowman.  The problem is that Jacobs needs to win that one on one battle, no matter how low Ballard goes.  He was hit just as he got to the line and in that situation you’d hope that Jacobs would have the presence of mind to just go over the top of the man to get the necessary yard.  Later in the game, Jacobs did convert a 2nd and 1 play that extended the Giants’ first touchdown drive.

D.J. Ware did not factor at all in the running game.  He did have a couple excellent chips in the passing game but he nearly got Manning killed when he whiffed on a blitzer in the first half.  Ware was targeted just once in the game, and it was on the slip screen.  It was a puzzling play.  There is no way to be sure, but it appeared that Ware believed that the play was supposed to be a decoy.  Ware went in motion from the backfield to the outside, and before Manning even threw the ball jumped high in the air with his arms extended, appearing to act as though he was about to catch it.  Neither Nicks nor Cruz blocked down on the play, as both released into patterns.  That is not how the Giants run that play.  Either the three receivers, including Ware, thought the play was designed to fool the 49ers into releasing Nicks and Cruz or Manning simply threw it to Ware because he didn’t like the defense.  At any rate, it was a bum play right from the start.

Fullback Henry Hynoski had a solid day in both the running game and the passing game.  As noted, it appeared at times that the halfbacks weren’t as patient with the blocking as they maybe could have been.  Hynoski got to the second level and did his job, but the holes were closing quickly behind him.  Hynoski also had to alter his assignments to account for a couple of free rushers off blitzes.  Hynoski also caught 3 balls for 20 yards out of the backfield.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

The Giants wide receivers had a very big day on Sunday, led by Victor Cruz this time.  Cruz had an astounding 8 receptions for 125 yards in the first half alone, the long being a 36 yard catch on a 3rd and 6 play that jump-started the Giants offense and led to their first touchdown.  Of his 8 first half reception, every single one converted to a 1st down.  Three of them came on 3rd down and the other five came on 2nd down.  In the second, half San Francisco did a great job of shutting Cruz down, but he still made two more catches in the 3rd quarter, converting another 1st down.  Amazingly Cruz did not catch a single pass after the completion with 8:54 left to play in the 3rd quarter.  He nearly had a circus catch on a 3rd and 4 play on the Giants’ final drive of the 4th quarter that would have put them in field goal range but the ball was just out of his reach and after juggling it a bit, it fell to the ground incomplete.

It was all Cruz all the time on the final drive of the first half that got the Giants their first field goal and the lead.  Cruz caught 4 passes, all for 1st downs, for a total of 56 yards on the drive.  That’s every single yard the Giants gained on that drive.  By game’s end, Cruz caught 10 of 17 passes thrown his way for 142 yards and 9 first downs.

Hakeem Nicks also had a decent game despite injuring his shoulder early.  Nicks was targeted 12 times and caught 5 passes for 55 yards.  Four of Nicks’ receptions also went for 1st downs, with three of them coming on 3rd down.  As with Cruz, Nicks was locked down in the 2nd half and only caught 1 pass in the 3rd quarter and one in the 4th quarter.

Mario Manningham was targeted 5 times but only came down with 1 catch.  It was a big one.  On 3rd and 15 from the San Francisco 17 yard line, the Giants ran a double post with Ballard underneath Manningham and Cruz even shorter underneath Ballard.  The safety climbed forward to double Ballard, leaving Manningham with one on one coverage by reserve CB Tramaine Brock.  Manningham beat him cleanly and Manning delivered a strike against a three-man San Francisco rush.

TE Travis Beckum is becoming more ingrained in the New York passing attack as Eli targeted him 5 times with Beckum catching 4 of them for 16 yards.  The one incomplete pass was a deep shot.  New York did execute a screen with Beckum but the astute San Francisco front was simply not getting fooled by the screen pass on Sunday and Beckum was caught from behind.

TE Bear Pascoe, who hadn’t caught a touchdown pass all season, caught his first of the year on the only pass thrown his way on Sunday.  TE Jake Ballard looked like he was moving better this week than last, and he was open on several occasions in which Eli decided to go elsewhere with the football.  Ballard was only thrown to one time which was incomplete.  Ballard saw a few opportunities at fullback on Sunday as well.

Offensive Line

As Eric from BBI outlined on this thread, the Giants offensive line stood up well early but faltered late, particularly in pass protection.  It should be noted that the Giants gained more rushing yards than San Francisco allowed on average all season (87 to 74, not including the 2 yard loss on the Manning kneel down).  The Giants had to keep the 49ers honest by running the ball some, and on Sunday they did just enough, which is to say they did their usual for this season.

Every lineman had problems on Sunday at different times.  The tackles, Kareem McKenzie and David Diehl, gave up pressure on the outside, particularly in the second half.  The interior of the line struggled to maintain blocks and open holes in the running game.  Chris Snee gave up two sacks in the first half.  David Baas and Kevin Boothe played better in the first half than they did in the second half.

Let’s face it, in the second half, the 49ers front seven completely controlled the line of scrimmage.  To their credit, New York’s line did a great job of maintaining their composure in the noise and only got called for one false start penalty and one hold all day.  More astounding was the fact that the line wasn’t called for a single hold on a pass play despite 64 drop backs.  San Francisco actually had 2 false starts.

Defense

Everywhere you look on the game tape of the Giants defense on Sunday you see a guy making a play.  Every single unit came up big at one point or another, and none more than the five defensive backs.  New York allowed just one catch to a wide receiver – to Michael Crabtree for 3 yards on a 3rd and 5 play from the Giants 10 yard line.  That stop forced San Francisco to kick a game tying field goal instead of potentially scoring a game winning touchdown.

The key to the entire day on defense was New York’s unbelievable ability to completely shut down the 49ers offense on third down.  Until the final play of regulation when New York was playing deep to ensure no cheap touchdowns, San Francisco was 0-12 on 3rd downs.  That is nothing short of amazing.

San Francisco ran well, but the numbers are somewhat skewed.  On the day, the 49ers gained 150 yards on the ground but 42 of them came on scrambles by QB Alex Smith.  New York held stellar RB Frank Gore to 74 yards on 16 carries (4.6 ypc average).  HB Kendall Smith pitched in with 31 yards on 4 carries.  As was noted in pregame discussions, New York had to be wary of the trick play.  San Francisco only tried to run one true “trick,” an end around that nearly ended in disaster for the 49ers.  They were able to execute a couple of exotic misdirection runs to Smith that gained good yardage.

Front 7

New York didn’t do anything fancy with their front 4 on Sunday, content to bring limited blitzes and let the defensive line just do their job.  What they did employ was their 4 DE package, dubbed the “Nascar Package” and better known on BBI as the Four Aces, quite a bit.  On the day, the line and DE/LB Mathias Kiwanuka got 3 sacks (1.5 by Tuck, 0.5 by Umenyiora, 0.5 by Pierre-Paul and 0.5 from Kiwanuka) and 6 hits on Smith.

The linebackers did not blitz often as they were tasked to cover TEs Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker and backs.

DTs Linval Joseph and Chris Canty had 2 of the 3 passes tipped at the line while JPP had the third.  Joseph and Canty were extremely active and did a good job of holding up at the line in the running game.  It was chippy, as Canty received a personal foul call for retaliating when his teammate Rocky Bernard was roughed up and came away with a bloody mouth after a play late in the 3rd quarter.

The play of the front 4 was crucial late in the 4th quarter and overtime when they helped force three 3 and outs.  During these critical moments of the game, the front four got 2 sacks and had Smith on the run, allowing just 3-of-8 completions.  The line simply willed themselves to shut down Smith late, prolonging the stalemate with the 49er defense that was only ended due to the Williams fumble in overtime.

The linebacker play on Sunday was stellar.  MIKE linebacker Chase Blackburn led the team in tackles with 7 and was outstanding at getting into his drops and helping to take both TE Vernon Davis and WR Michael Crabtree out of the game over the middle of the field.  His counterpart, Jacquian Williams, also was outstanding in the game and made a critical pass defense when he got under RB Frank Gore and nearly intercepted a pass that would have gone a long way if it had been caught.

Mathais Kiwanuka made one of the most critical plays of the day when he was able to shed a blocker and force RB Anthony Dixon back inside on the 3rd and 1 play where Linval Joseph and Chase Blackburn converged to stop him for no gain at the Giants 46 yard line.

Secondary

New York made two mistakes in the secondary on Sunday, and both went for touchdowns.  Other than those two plays it could be argued that the secondary played their best game of the season as they completely shut down the San Francisco wide receivers including the dangerous Michael Crabtree who had 1 catch for 3 yards despite being targeted 5 times.  WR Kyle Williams was targeted 4 times and caught none.  Williams did get deep on the Giants once and was overthrown badly by Smith.  Had that been a better pass it would probably have gone for a 70 yard touchdown.

CBs Corey Webster and Aaron Ross shut down the outside all day with help from safeties Deon Grant and Kenny Phillips.  Webster nearly had a pick early in the game and caused the Delanie Walker fumble on the last play of regulation.  Aaron Ross was also credited with a pass defensed.  To illustrate just how effective they were, Ross and Webster combined for just 4 tackles on the entire day.  Ross was called on one of the most ticky tack illegal contact penalties ever called when he shoved WR Kevin Williams down as he made his in-cut between 5 and 6 yards off the line.  The penalty occurred on 3rd and 19 and extended the drive.

S Kenny Phillips had a tremendous game despite being the goat on Vernon Davis’ second touchdown.  On that play, Davis came in motion to the left side of the formation and lined up in the slot.  No Giant linebacker or CB maneuvered with Davis to that position, and Phillips came up to the line of scrimmage in what appeared a precursor to jamming him at the line.  Instead, Phillips lined up directly opposite Kevin Williams, allowed Williams a free release to the middle of the field, and then sat in what appeared to be a zone look while Webster had to take Walker, who cut inside Davis to the center of the field, leaving Phillips one on one with Davis who wheeled outside and deep.  It’s possible that Phillips expected Davis to run a simple out cut and thought he had taken it away.  As the play developed, it sure appeared that Phillips would jam Davis but apparently that wasn’t the strategy on that play.

Phillips shared deep coverage over the top of Davis with Blackburn underneath and overall took Davis out of the game.  His read and hit on Davis stopped the 49ers short of a 1st down by 1 yard in overtime, setting up the dramatic finish.

Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant also played extremely well in coverage.  Rolle was victimized on the first Davis touchdown but otherwise played a good game, particularly in run support.  On the play before the failed 3rd and 1 by San Francisco, Rolle was lined up near the line of scrimmage and was absolutely mugged by NT turned FB Isaac Sopoaga, fell to the ground, but was able to reach out and trip up RB Anthony Dixon for just a 3 yard gain.  Dixon looked off to the races for a big gainer on that play, but Rolle’s determination set up the 3rd and 1 stand.

Special Teams

San Francisco has one of the best special teams units in all of football.  They routinely win the battle of field position due to the fact that they have arguably the best kicking game in the league.  That bore out in the kickoff game as New York’s drives started on average at the 22 yard line while San Francisco started at their 30.

K Lawrence Tynes wasn’t as effective as David Akers on kickoffs.  None of Tynes’ four kickoffs went into the end zone.  Kickoff coverage was fine except for the 40 yard return that set up the 49ers at their own 45 yard line for their game tying field goal drive.  New York returned just one of Akers’ kickoffs for 17 yards as his other 4 were touchbacks.  San Francisco gained 100 total yards on four kickoff returns.

As for the punting game, New York punted 12 times and San Francisco punted 10.  Steve Weatherford pinned the 49ers inside the 20 just twice while SF punter Andy Lee was able to drop it inside the 20 on three occasions.

San Francisco was aggressive with their punt return game while the Giants were cautious, even to the point of putting Aaron Ross back deep in the 4th quarter and overtime.  While the reason for that hasn’t been disclosed, one can assume that Tom Coughlin wanted sure hands back there.  Even with the change, it was apparent that the Giants returners were instructed to take what they could get and then get down with the ball secured.  New York averaged about 9 yards per punt return as did the 49ers.  Giants punt coverage was good save for the one 24 yarder returned by Williams that set up the 49ers at their own 46 yard line on their go ahead touchdown drive in the third quarter.

Despite the 49ers coming away with the edge in both kicking games, New York capitalized on the fact that Kyle Williams was sloppy in the return game and turned the ball over twice.  The first was a muffed punt that went off Williams’ knee after a very short punt by a pressured Weatherford took a good bounce downfield.  The only smart play there is to just get away from the ball, but when the ball took off on the bounce, Williams thought of fielding it and at the last second decided not to but by then it was too late.  An alert Devin Thomas, the gunner on the play, scooped up the ball and scooted into the end zone while whistles blew.  Thomas and Chase Blackburn implored HC Tom Coughlin to challenge the play, which he did and won.  New York got the ball on the San Francisco 29 yard line and despite incurring a holding penalty on the drive converted the short field into a go ahead touchdown.

Williams stayed aggressive and on the ensuing kickoff set up the 49ers with the 40 yard return noted above.  Unfortunately for Williams, his aggressiveness cost him in overtime when he fielded a punt by Weatherford and tried to get outside the coverage.  On the play, Jacquian Williams had maintained his gap all the way down the field.  Kyle Williams attempted to elude him by cutting left.  Jacquian stayed with the play despite the slick field and on one foot and completely off balance got his hand inside and knocked the ball free from behind.  Devin Thomas, again the gunner on the play, scooped up the loose ball at the 24 yard line and the Giants were in business to kick the game winning field goal.

Lawerence Tynes converted both field goal attempts, including his second NFC Championship overtime game winner.

Coaching

Tom Coughlin knows what’s at stake in the playoffs.  He understands that these situations do not come along often and masterfully explains the opportunity at hand to his players.  New York played with discipline, poise and tenacity on Sunday.  Despite the bad weather and field conditions, New York didn’t commit a turnover.

The Giants did commit 9 penalties on the day and 4 of them led to 49er first downs.  The only defensive penalty that proved costly was the illegal hands to the face penalty on Kenny Phillips in which he grabbed Vernon Davis’ facemask as he lost him at the line of scrimmage on a 1st down play in the 4th quarter.  San Francisco went on to score a field goal on that drive, but it could be argued that the slight grab by Phillips slowed Davis just enough to save a possible touchdown.

Coughlin also did a great job of clock management at the end of the first half to ensure Manning had enough time to get down the field in the 2 minute drill to kick the go ahead field goal.

Perry Fewell called a masterful game.  He did a great job of trusting his front four on the pass rush and keeping his linebackers and safeties in coverage.  Despite the fact that TE Vernon Davis did score 2 touchdowns, he only had 3 catches and was taken out of the game for long stretches. The wide receivers did nothing against the Giants.

One has to agree that the strategy to protect the ball at all costs on special teams worked for the Giants.  San Francisco is the best team in the league at taking away the ball.  On a sloppy day, special teams turnovers could have killed the Giants, especially when they were fielding 10 punts.  As we all saw, the 49ers were much more aggressive and it cost them twice, leading to 10 crucial points.

Final Thoughts

New York is now a perfect 5-0 in Conference Championship games, and 2-0 in Candlestick Park in Conference Championship games.  This game was a true throwback to an era gone by.  Two defenses that were simply unwilling to break.  Before the fumbled punt, it sure looked like this stalemate could go late into the night.  The will of the Giants is uncannily strong, and this team and its playoff run is eerily similar to the 2007 team that won the Super Bowl.

The Giants now has a chance to repeat the 2007 outcome as they will once again meet Tom Brady and the New England Patriots for the right to raise the Lombardi Trophy.  This time there are no perfect teams, there are no David and Goliath platitudes, it’s just a very good New England team and a very good New York Giants team.

Onwards and upwards, one last time!

(Box Score – New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers, January 22, 2012)
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