By Paul Dottino
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Super, but not in typical fashion.
The Giants heavily relied on the arm of Eli Manning and two game-changing special teams plays to outlast the San Francisco 49ers, 20-17, in overtime Sunday to capture the NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park. They’ll head to Indianapolis for a Super Bowl showdown with the New England Patriots in two weeks.
More on Manning below, but let’s go to the punt coverage team, which recovered two miscues that led to a touchdown and then the winning field goal.
WR Devin Thomas recovered Kyle Williams’ muff at the San Francisco 29 with 11:08 left in the fourth quarter. Six plays later, WR Mario Manningham caught a 17-yard TD pass to put the Giants ahead, 17-14. Thomas also recovered Williams’ fumble to set up the winning field goal (see below).
So let’s get to our review:
Offense-WR Eli Manning. You can mark this one down as the seventh fourth-quarter comeback of Manning’s season and he did it despite a pedestrian running game and an offensive line that allowed him to get battered (six sacks) throughout the night. He finished 32-of-58 (yes, that’s 58 passes!) for 316 and two touchdowns. Manning was brilliant early in the fourth quarter when he threw a 17-yard rope to WR Mario Manningham on a post route to regain the lead at 17-14 with 8:34 to play. And it goes without saying that it in a nip-and-tuck game of this magnitude, it was critical that he didn’t turn over the ball with an interception or by coughing up the ball while he was getting leveled in the backfield.
Defense-LB Corey Webster. We realize that TE Vernon Davis got past him for a TD catch, but you cannot undervalue Webster’s tackle on WR Michael Crabtree, who gained just 3 yards along the right side on a 3rd-and-5 from the Giants 10 with 6 minutes to play. The Niners, who had gained the momentum, were forced to settle for a 25-yard field goal from David Akers that tied the game at 17.
Special teams-LB Jacquian Williams/WR Devin Thomas. Rookie LB Greg Jones had three solo tackles in kick coverage and would have won this honor on any other day. But there’s no way we cannot reward Williams and Thomas. Williams forced PR Kyle Williams’ overtime fumble that was recovered by Thomas at the Niners 24. Five snaps later, the Giants booted the winning field goal. For Thomas, it was his second recovery of the game. Special mention to P Steve Weatherford, who did a great job of fielding LB Zak DeOssie’s low snap on the winning field goal.
Offense-Offensive line. QB Eli Manning was under constant duress. He was sacked six times and plastered on countless other occasions. If that wasn’t enough, the running game accounted for just 85 yards on 26 carries (3.3 avg.) with a long of 9 yards. Even worse, the line allowed the 49ers to pick up the pressure against Manning after tying the score at 17 with almost five minutes to play. The Giants had two more possessions in regulation, but Manning was under such heat that he was unable to get his team into scoring range. Even when the Giants reached the San Francisco 46 on their second try of overtime, LT David Diehl gave up a sack to DE Justin Smith that forced a punt, which was fumbled and set up the decisive field goal.
Defense-FS Kenny Phillips. Phillips got over late on TE Vernon Davis’ 28-yard TD catch that put the Niners on top, 14-10, with 5:18 left in the third quarter. Davis was able to speed past CB Corey Webster and Phillips attempted to come over the top and time his hit in the end zone, but he didn’t get there in time.
Special teams-PR Will Blackmon. The 49ers controlled field position for most of the game and Blackmon didn’t do anything to tilt it in the Giants’ favor. He returned three punts for 26 yards with two fair catches before being replaced by Aaron Ross.
Which Giants player gets your game ball? Be heard in the comments below…