‘From the Pressbox’
By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns
Ernie is the author of “Lombardi and Landry.”
In another day, another time, you might get awful nervous about Sunday’s NFC Championship game in San Francisco.
And none of it would have had to do with this year’s 27-20 Niners win at Candlestick.
The Giants, a far different team than the one that took apart Green Bay in Sunday’s semifinal, came close enough in that one, drawing to within 20-13 before tight end Vernon Davis and running back Kendall Hunter settled matters with early fourth-quarter touchdowns.
No, what we’re talking about here is the last postseason meeting between these two teams. That was a decade ago, several football lifetimes, before Kevin Boss and then Jake Ballard put the memories of me-first Jeremy Shockey to shame, when Eli Manning was still breaking every significant record his old man, Archie, held at Ole Miss.
Remember that one? The 2002 wild card game in San Francisco. 39-38 Niners after they came back from trailing 38-14 with 4:27 left in the third quarter.
Cue the ghosts of playoffs past.
Not to throw a damper on this great party the Giants have thrown themselves, but if the ghosts have anything to do with anything — and sometimes they do — the Giants should pay heed to the past.
Of course, not only is this a different era, but a different coach is in charge. Something tells us Tom Coughlin is not going to let the Giants sit back and relax, or let anyone storm back as easily as Terrell Owens, Jeff Garcia, Tai Streets, and kicker Jeff Chandler did.
Michael Boley pointed out the overall mindset that has grabbed hold of this Giants team since this fantasy streak started four games ago against the Jets.
“Never quit,” Boley said. “We have to finish what we started. We started the season on a good note. That’s one of the things that Tom has said to us from Day 1, as soon as we stepped in here for training camp. Finish, make sure we finish everything we do.”
The 2002 squad didn’t quit. It did collapse, however, under a barrage of passing and a botched field goal snap by seasoned substitute long-snapper Trey Junkin that, had it arrived at holder Matt Allen’s target 41 yards distant from the posts, might have produced the game-winning points.
In essence, they failed to finish.
If the Giants are to turn their backs on the football gods and win in that beautiful city of the morning fog, they need to finish.
“We wouldn’t say we’re unstoppable, but our mindset is extreme at this point,” safety Antrel Rolle said. “We’re not going to be denied.”
A lot of that, Rolle said, has to do with chemistry over talent. That’s what Coughlin’s teams are all about. Without chemistry, without trust in each other, this defense would have been demoralized from the get-go, given its injuries and ineffectiveness most of the season.
But Coughlin kept them together long enough for some healthy cavalrymen to ride to the rescue. And now they’re one of the playoffs most formidable units.
And the passing game has excelled all season. And now that the Saints’ 400-plus passing yards Saturday proved the Niners’ secondary exploitable, Manning has his work all laid out.
It’s just a matter of shaking the ghosts.
They do have a funny way of popping up at the most inconvenient of times.
Giants fans: Are you nervous heading into the NFC Championship game? Let us know in the comments below…