2012 NFC Championship: Giants Continue Run By Topping 49ers
On a slippery field that only got slicker as rain continued to pour throughout the game, a game marred by questionable ball security cost the 49ers dearly as an overtime fumble on a punt return by Kyle Williams set up a game-winning Giants field goal.
Here how the Giants booked their ticket to for Super Bowl XLVI:
Special Teams Disasters
The Giants scored 10 points, including the winning three, off two San Francisco fumbles. With the 49ers top return man Ted Ginn Jr. out with an injured knee, Kyle Williams muffed and lost two punts, the first of which occurred at the start of the 4th quarter and led to an Eli Manning 17-yard strike to wide receiver Mario Manningham to put the Giants up 17-14.
The second fumble was even more costly. With the 49ers set to receive the ball in overtime and potentially drive down the field for a game-winning score, Williams took the punt and was stripped by the Giants Jaquan Williams. The fumble was recovered by the Giants at the 49ers' 24-yard line. The Giants then advanced deeper into 49ers territory, where kicker Lawrence Tynes hit a 31-yard field goal to seal the victory.
The Giants on offense: The Manning Show
The Giants' running game "lived up" to its billing as the last-ranked rushing team in the NFL, rushing for 85 yards with an average of 3.3 yards per carry. This meant the brunt of the offense was to be put on the quarterback, Manning.
Manning was stellar, throwing for 316 yards and two touchdowns on 32-of-58 passing. He hit emerging Giants star wide receiver Victor Cruz 10 times for 142 yards, and spread the ball among eight receivers without throwing an interception.
Despite being sacked six times and being constantly hit and harassed by 49ers defensive stalwarts Patrick Willis and Justin Smith the entire game, Manning kept his resolve. While he did not consistently lead long scoring drives, he also did not commit any costly turnovers and let the Giants' defense and special teams grind out stops and turnovers to keep Big Blue competitive.
The 49ers on offense: Same Old Smith
In a performance similar to one eliminated Broncos quarterback named Tebow, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, apart from two touchdown strikes to tight end Vernon Davis of 73 and 28 yards, struggled to complete passes consistently. He finished 12-of-26 passing for 196 yards. While the 49ers had no turnovers, they finished only 1-of-13 on third-down conversions, quickly killing many of their drives.
49ers running back Frank Gore had a respectable 16 rushes for 74 yards, but was not able to break free for any long runs. Seeing as Smith was not able to consistently engineer long drives with his arm down the field, the 49ers needed Gore to play dynamically and turn the game into the 49ers favor. He could not meet that order.
The Weather Factor
While rain was expected all week for the game, it nonetheless played a huge role. Receivers from both teams dropped normally easy catches throughout the game, and both teams' punt returns often ended prematurely as the return man slipped and fell onto the grass. Most importantly though, was the rain's effect on ball safety, especially for the 49ers, who fumbled the ball four times, with the final fumble by Williams ultimately costing the 49ers their title shot.
The rain also contributed to some sloppy plays. The two teams combined to have 15 penalties for 110 yards, extending many drives and not letting either team pull away from the other. In fact, the largest lead of the game was when the 49ers scored the first touchdown on a 73-yard Vernon Davis breakaway to take a 7-0 lead.
The Giants have booked their ticket to Indianapolis, where they will face the New England Patriots in a rematch of Super Bowl XLII, where the Giants famously ended the Patriots' undefeated season in a 17-14 thriller. Just as in the 2008 playoffs, the Giants entered the playoffs without much hype, and have proceeded to shock the top seeds in the NFC with a prolific passing offense and an intimidating run defense, with upstart defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul leading the charge.
Heartbreak in Candlestick (Again)
For seasoned 49ers fans, the way this game ended might seem all too familiar. In 1991, the Giants also ended the 49ers Super Bowl dreams in dramatic fashion, with Giants kicker Matt Bahr kicking a 42-yard field goal to give the Giants a 15-13 victory and send them to the title game.
Escaping Peyton’s shadow
After another strong playoff performance, Eli Manning now has a chance to earn his second Super Bowl title to his brother’s one, and on the same field where Peyton has dazzled Colts fans for years. With Peyton's future in Indianapolis in doubt with the Colts’ appearing set to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, now is the perfect time for Eli to step forth and try to become the first Manning to earn two Super Bowl titles.
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