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Keefe To The City: Giants Never Make It Easy

A retro recap of the NFC Championship Game
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(Credit: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

(Credit: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

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By Neil Keefe
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I said prior to the start of the playoffs that the Giants were playing with house money and that I wouldn’t be upset with whatever happened during the playoffs since no one expected them to get this far anyway. I lied.

Sunday night I took a time machine and went back to January of senior year of college. All the way back to the year 2008 (Conan O’Brien “In the year 2000” voice). It felt like four years ago as I watched the Giants go on the road and win another playoff game and another NFC Championship Game in overtime that would send them on their way to play the Patriots, who won earlier in the day (just like they did four years ago).

I watched the NFC Championship with my three roommates: Red and Dave, who are both Giants fans, and Matt, who is an Eagles fan who would spend the night trying to will the 49ers to victory from the couch. Here is how the night unfolded starting just after 6:30 p.m. and not ending until 10:35 p.m. Four hours of physical and mental exhaustion that left me feeling like I ran the New York marathon twice in the same day.

6:41 – I get a text message from Red from the other side of the apartment. It reads: “Biggest game of the effing year.”

6:58 – On their first possession of the game the Giants dodge a bullet when Eli is sacked and fumbles, but Kareem McKenzie falls on it to keep the 49ers from having incredible field position. Nothing like a good scare from the Giants to open the NFC Championship!

6:59 – Alex Smith throws the ball into the line on first-and-10 from his own 27. There’s the Alex Smith we all remember from before the win over the Saints.

7:00 – Vernon Davis goes 73 yards for a touchdown and then auditions for the Saturday Night Fever remake in the end zone before jumping up on a camera stand to fold his arms and stare at the field. Flags start flying everywhere. Ed Hochuli tells us that there’s a 15-yard penalty for the celebration, but that they are reviewing the play to see if he went out of bounds. If he did go out of bounds then the penalty is enforced from where he went out. If it’s a touchdown, the penalty is enforced on the kickoff. My question is how is the penalty enforced where he went out if he did? If the touchdown technically didn’t happen then didn’t the penalty technically not happen? The NFL really needs to review some odd rules in their book over the summer. But don’t get me wrong, I’m happy it’s going to be enforced no matter what.

It looks clear to me that he stepped out, but I have a feeling it doesn’t look clear on the TV under the hood.

7:04 – Ed Hochuli can’t even explain what happened on the review to see if Davis went out of bounds. He sounds like Boston’s Mayor Menino reciting the “Pledge of Allegiance” as he fumbles around for the right words to tell us that there wasn’t conclusive evidence because conclusive evidence doesn’t exist when it comes to the Giants. I’m glad I just got my first beer of the game. It looks like we have a Bill Leavy situation on our hands again.

The one guy who can’t beat you is Vernon Davis and he just did for 73 yards as the call on the field stands despite what looked like conclusive evidence that he did step out of bounds. The Giants need to make the 49ers put together an actual drive down the field. They can’t allow the one big play to kill them.

Joe Buck tells us that Mike Pereira told him that the Lambeau Leap is grandfathered into the league.

7:08 – Is there any team in the league with worse kick and punt returners than the Giants? I have the answer for you. No, there’s not. (That sequence would be a lot funnier for you if you listened to Rex Ryan talk about Terrell Suggs with Mike Francesa on WFAN on Friday.)

The Giants should be using Victor Cruz or Hakeem Nicks on kickoffs and punts in the playoffs. This is the playoffs! This isn’t Candy Land.

7:10 – Hakeem Nicks falls awkwardly on his shoulder and runs off the field and is now headed to the locker room. Anyone need a beer? To make things better though, Troy Aikman, M.D. is telling us his diagnosis of Nicks without any information.

7:11 – A first down on second-and-5 via the run for the Giants. The good news is it’s a first down. The bad news is this means Kevin Gilbride will think it’s OK to keep running the ball into 49ers line.

Gilbride verifies my thought as Bradshaw gets the ball again on the next play and might have gained one yard if he’s lucky.

7:13 – Brandon Jacobs is worthless. He’s worthless. Fourth-and-1 on the 49 and he can’t get three feet.

Earlier in the day my roommates and I were watching Super Bowl XLII highlights from the final drive when Jacobs converted the huge fourth-and-1. I said if we needed that play in 2011, he wouldn’t get it. Sure enough he doesn’t just hours later. The Giants turn the ball over on downs.

7:15 – The apartment is dead silent. I don’t think Dave has said a word so far and just looks extremely worried like he’s waiting for a phone call from his girlfriend on the results of a pregnancy test. Matt has been quiet the entire game though I know he’s desperately rooting against the Giants in his head. Red has been the most talkative of the three, but it’s usually to go on an expletive-filled rant after the Giants run the ball. The last words said in the apartment were from Red when he said, “Good start” after Jacobs was stopped. Giants fans!

7:16 – Osi Umenyiora just had a chance to turn the game around, but couldn’t handle the fumble in the rain. Wet or dry, isn’t it amazing how many guys have trouble trying to recover a fumble that’s in their hands? Everything is going wrong for the Giants early on. Red just broke the silence with one of his rants.

7:17 – Here’s a scary thought: This game feels a lot like the Giants-Dolphins game in the rain in London in 2007. Sure, the Giants won that game 13-10, but the entire game was sloppy.

7:20 – Here’s a fun fact: Jacobs is 8-for-16 in his career on fourth-and-1.

7:21 – The first quarter ends and it was as bad of a first quarter as you could ask for. The Giants recovered a fumble of their own, missed the chance to recover a 49ers’ fumble and failed on a fourth-and-1. On top of that, I only had one beer in the quarter. The Giants aren’t the only ones that need to pick it up.

Everyone is still quiet in the apartment. Dave is speaking softly and giving off the vibes of an inevitable loss. I can see the steam and fire coming out of Red’s ears and head. Matt is sitting back and relaxing since his football season ended a long time ago. Fly Eagles Fly!

7:24 – The Giants start the second quarter off with a 36-yard pass to Victor Cruuuuuuuuuuuuz. Turning point of the game?

(I hope it rains for the next week in San Francisco and that this rain isn’t just bad luck on the one day the Giants have to play there. I can’t stop thinking about the midge game from the 2007 ALDS.)

7:27 – Eli is 5-for-6 on third-down conversions. Hakeem Nicks catches a pass at the 49ers’ 8-yard line. The camera shows a close-up of Jim Harbaugh huffing and puffing his cheeks the way Mark Teixeira does when he’s running down the first-base line. We get it. Somehow Brandon Jacobs just picked up a first down.

7:28 – The Giants are still in the huddle with six seconds left on the play clock. Now they’re forced to burn a timeout because of either miscommunication or confusion. If this happens in the second half I will lose it. (No, I haven’t lost it already.)

Commercial break: Reese Witherspoon is an absolute smokeshow in the trailer for This Means War.

7:32 – TOUCHDOWN, GIANTS! Eli finds Bear Pascoe (how many people in the world just asked, “Who the hell is Bear Pascoe?” the way Verne Lundquist asked, “Who the hell is Happy Gilmore?” High fives and applause and celebratory expletives fill the apartment.

7:36 – Alex Smith tries to rebut Eli’s touchdown pass with a bomb to Kyle Williams, but overthrows him by about 15 yards. Joe Buck got a little too excited for the attempt. I hope Buck isn’t beginning to judge long pass attempts the way that Michael Kay and John Sterling judge long fly balls and home runs.

7:38 – A third-down penalty on Aaron Ross gives the 49ers an automatic first down. What would a Giants game be without a terrible play or decision from Aaron Ross? I’m not sure since it’s never happened.

7:40 – A mini fight breaks out and a flag flies. A Giants player was on the ground and getting taunted/hit, but I’m sure there will be a 15-yarder on the Giants somehow.

Nevermind. The flag is on Vernon Davis for pushing Michael Boley for really no reason at all. Where’s Mike Singletary to bench Davis and send him to the locker room when you need him? Oh, right. He was fired because his franchise quarterback couldn’t win games for him.

7:43 – Alex Smith is doing nothing and I mean nothing in the way that Tom Brady did nothing today. Luckily he has Frank Gore on his team who can’t be stopped right now. I have a great feeling every time the 49ers drop back to pass.

Chase Blackburn makes a huge play on Gore. It’s insane that Blackburn was sitting on his couch prior to the Giants-Packers regular season game and then re-signed with the team only to intercept Aaron Rodgers in that game and then start every game the rest of the way. I can only imagine how much better the team would have been if he had been on the team from the start of the year.

7:49 – How about Candlestick Park? It’s 2012. How is this stadium still hosting major sporting events?

7:52 – Third-and-2 for the Giants at their own 48. I say, “Don’t get sacked.” Eli gets sacked.

7:59 – The Giants stop the 49ers on third-and-7 and use their last timeout of the half. Eli will have the ball with 1:36 left and no timeouts. If the Giants can score here and then score to open the second half I can finally relax. Eli Manning in the two-minute drill is the closest thing to No. 42 in the ninth inning when it comes to New York sports.

8:04 – Cruz has three catches (and been the intended target four times) on this drive for 43 yards. He looks like he is breathing heavy and could use a Gatorade. The same goes me.

8:06 – Eli has a brainfart and calls timeout, but the Giants don’t have any timeouts left. Ed Hochuli is here to explain more rules by definition to us.

An unbelievable pass and catch from Eli and Cruuuuuuz to get the ball to the 49ers’ 13. Eli spikes it on third-and-2 and here comes Lawrence Tynes. Maybe he doesn’t need a Gatorade.

8:07 – Six seconds left in the half and Tynes is in for the field goal. He already almost missed an extra point. Please don’t miss this.

8:08 – Tynes drills it and the Giants take a 10-7 lead into halftime. Eli always gets points at the end of a half.

8:24 – Joe Buck opens the second half by telling us the Packers are already in the Super Bowl, which is what he had wished for. But hey, Packers … Patriots … same thing.

8:25 – Ahmad Bradshaw stops and tries to cut back in the rain once again. He has now done this on every carry today and has been stopped as he soon as he tries to cut back on every cut back. I’m not sure if he is aware of the effects of rain and mud.

8:27 – Run, run, incomplete pass. Well, having the ball to start the second half didn’t matter as the Giants punt right away.

8:30 – Alex Smith just got sacked by three Giants simultaneously, but it looked and probably felt like eight Giants. I wish Jay Alford were one of them.

8:33 – You have to love NFL rules sometimes. A five-yard penalty for the Giants on third-and-14 for the 49ers gives the 49ers an automatic first down. Why is Ed Hochuli reading the definition of every penalty on every call? Is this now mandatory after the officiating job that Bill Leavy did last week in Green Bay?

8:36 – It’s third down for the 49ers and Joe Buck is saying that Osi Umenyiora isn’t lined up in the neutral zone as he is just praying for a penalty. No penalty is called. Sorry, Joe.

8:37 – Whenever the 49ers have to punt, I just pray that it goes out of bounds or that Will Blackmon just goes down immediately once he catches it. The word “fumble” follows Blackmon around like a stench.

8:40 – Victor Cruz with back-to-back catches. He now has 10 catches for 142 yards. I would like to take this time to thank Steve Smith for not re-signing with the Giants.

8:41 – Eli is forced to throw it away because of the blitz, as the offensive line is doing nothing to protect him. There isn’t a Patriots fan who isn’t praying the 49ers win this game.

8:43 – Kyle Williams almost breaks free for a touchdown on the punt return. Hey, the 49ers have a wide receiver returning punts, why can’t we? Will Blackmon is the luckiest man in the world when it comes to being employed. (Well, outside of Boone Logan.)

8:45 – Frank Gore breaks free for 24 yards after the catch. On the following play, Smith finds Davis for a 28-yard touchdown. The one that can’t beat you has beaten you twice in the same game. Inexcusable. Is this Miguel Cabrera in the 2011 ALDS?

8:52 – The apartment is dead quiet. It might be time to ask anyone if they want to order a pizza. Pizza always makes people happy.

8:56 – The Giants punt again. If I entered the game with a 10-out of-10 on the Confidence Scale, I’m at a steady 3 right now.

Troy Aikman says the Giants have played a good defensive game aside from the two big plays they gave up for touchdowns. That’s like a pitcher saying he had a great game except for the two mistake pitches that resulted in a pair of two-run home runs.

8:58 – The 49ers go three-and-out. I’m done drinking. I need to be completely focused on this game. I’m already starting to think about Red’s confidence heading into the game and his guarantee that the Giants will win and the inevitable jinx he might have caused.

8:59 – There’s no urgency with the Giants the way there wasn’t for most of the regular season. It’s the team’s biggest problem and has been in the Tom Coughlin Era.

9:03 – The Giants are forced to punt again. Dave ordered a pepperoni roll from the store downstairs because he wanted a tin of Skoal, but didn’t want to miss the game, so he had to order the roll to meet the $10 minimum for the guy to walk upstairs and deliver him the tin. Dave just knocked the pizza roll off the coffee table before having a single bite (he knocked an entire beer off the table during the Patriots-Ravens game) and the side cup of sauce is everywhere and the entire roll is on the ground. He looks at the Giants’ situation on TV and looks at his roll on the ground and exclaims, “I can’t catch an effing break.” Red is covering his mouth to hold back laughter. I might just go to sleep right now. Dave puts the roll back on the plate and starts cutting it up to eat it anyway. I think this might be the turning point of the game.

9:08 – Here come the officials since everyone in America tuned in to watch them. A 15-yard penalty is called on Chris Canty for a push after the whistle. This is the NFC Championship Game, right? This is the second half of the game that decides who goes to the Super Bowl, right? So, now we’re not going to let athletes near the end of an emotional game decide the game themselves? Oh, OK. I was ready for the season to be over with 5:41 left in Dallas in Week 14. I’m beginning to think I would have been better off if it was.

9:12 – Gore opens the fourth quarter by turning what would have been a loss of one yard into a game of six yards.

9:15 – I wasn’t worried for really any of the Packers game. That game was against the 15-1 defending champions in Lambeau Field where they had lost in years. But in the fourth quarter, I’m sweating out a Giants-49ers game worried about Alex Smith making one more pass to dagger the Giants’ season. Is this real life?

9:16 – The 49ers punt and during the commercial break, Red begins to give Knute Rockne-like speech to the apartment. “THIS IS IT RIGHT HERE! WE HAVE ONE QUARTER! ONE QUARTER!” I feel like Les Miles is sitting on the other couch yelling at me. Either Red should be getting called for an interview for the Colts’ head coach opening or he might want to stop drinking tonight.

9:17 – Is Ahmad Bradshaw wearing dress shoes? Why is he so slow? Eli gets sacked again.

9:25 – Devin Thomas might have just saved the season by picking up the ball on what looked to an innocent play, but the replay shows the Giants’ punt went off the knee of Kyle Williams and after reviewing the play, the ball should belong to the Giants. (I say should because we all watched the Giants-Packers game).

Giants ball!

9:28 – Ed Hochuli apparently hasn’t gotten to use his microphone enough, so he turns it on to call an untimely holding penalty on the Giants. It’s third-and-15 for the Giants now from the 49ers’ 17.

TOUCHDOWN!!! Eli to Manningham on third-and-15 and the Giants take a 17-14 lead! High fives and hugs and screams all around.

9:31 – Is Lawrence Tynes the only kicker in the NFL that can’t reach the end zone on kickoffs with the new kickoff rules? 8:34 left in the game.

9:38 – Kendall Hunter follows Smith with an 18-yard run of his own down to the Giants’ 15. The 49ers have 149 rushing yards. The Giants have 57.

9:39 – Joe Buck tells us that the 49ers were 30th in the league in scoring in the red zone during the regular season. If this isn’t a Michael Kay moment, I don’t know what is. I’m expecting a 49ers touchdown now. The 49ers run a bizarre play that Aikman says he saw them run earlier in the week in practice, but he thought Smith was just “goofing around” in practice when he ran it.

9:41 – The Giants hold the 49ers to a field goal as David Akers blasts a 25-yard field goal. Akers would never miss against the Giants. Never. Who do you think we are? The Patriots? The Giants don’t get breaks like that. 5:39 left. Tie game. I can’t breathe.

9:46 – An amazing three-and-out for the Giants. I need an inhaler and I don’t have asthma.

9:48 – Alex Smith is sacked on third-and-7 at the 49ers’ 28 by Mathias Kiwanuka and Osi Umenyiora on the biggest play of the season to date.

9:49 – Aaron Ross is now returning punts? Umm, WHAT?!?!?!?!

9:51 – You know the silly NFL rules I hate? I take it back. “Forward progress” saves the Giants’ season as the officials blow an early whistle prior to a Bradshaw fumble, and the Giants are still alive.

10:01 – Eli is getting lit up. His jersey is complete brown from the mud and he looks like a mess. If you just turned on FOX you would think they’re airing Saving Private Ryan starring Eli Manning. Is anyone going to protect him? Anyone?

10:03 – The Giants are forced to punt with under a minute left. Punt it out of the end zone! Don’t give Williams a chance to return it. I have lived through this story once before and I don’t want to again.

Weatherford gets a low snap (timely!) and only gets it to the 49er’s 22. Williams brings it up to the 49ers’ 36. The 49ers are essentially two solid passes away from David Akers’ range. Please kneel the ball, San Francisco! PLEASE!

10:08 – Thankfully nothing happens. I have been standing up and rocking back and forth mixed with jumping up and down for the last 20 minutes, and now we’re going to overtime. Things are only going to get worse.

10:11 – Hochuli explains the overtime rules in 22 minutes with an intermission halfway through. The Giants call “tails” and it’s tails! Tails never fails! (Except when it’s heads.)

10:12 – I asked Red if he would sleep outside tonight on the street to have the Giants win this game. He says, “100 percent. I would just bundle up.”

10:13 – Here we go!

10:16 – A pass intended for Jerrel Jernigan on third down with the season the line? No big deal. Jernigan only had zero catches during the regular season. The Giants punt right away. So much for winning the toss.

10:18 – JPP with a huge tackle on Gore for a loss of two yards on second-and-10, and I immediately go into my own version of JPP’s celebration.

10:20 – It only took Tom Coughlin … well it took Tom Coughlin a long time to realize that Will Blackmon is a waste of a return man. The problem is that Aaron Ross is now the return man. You never want a guy as a return man who doesn’t touch the ball throughout the game. It’s a recipe for disaster. And you also never want to start changing your return man in the NFC Championship Game. All of this coupled with the fact that Aaron Ross is Aaron Ross makes me think something very, very bad is going to happen in overtime.

10:23 – A 49ers’ timeout allows for me to catch my breath and compose myself during the commercial break.

10:26 – Third-and-3 at the 49ers’ 46 and Eli is sacked for a loss of 10 yards. Devastating. Just devastating.

10:27 – AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! KYLE WILLIAMS FUMBLES THE PUNT! DEVIN THOMAS! DEVIN THOMAS! DEVIN THOMAS!

I just did a combination of the Jeter fist pump with the Joba 360-fist pump with the Cervelli fist pump with the Posada hand clap with the Anisimov snipe and I finished it with Theo Fleury’s goal celebration from Game 6 of the 1991 playoffs by rolling around on the hardwood floor to celebrate the 49ers’ turnover. Monster.com has at least two new accounts being created tonight between Kyle Williams and Billy Cundiff.

10:31 – Please don’t fumble, Ahmad Bradshaw. Please don’t fumble.

10:32 – FOX shows the graphic for the Giants’ field goal unit to show you who is to blame if the Giants can’t make this 26-yard chip shot. Either FOX is trying to conjure up memories of the 2002 playoff game here with Trey Junkin or they watched the Patriots-Ravens game and know that a lot of people are googling the Ravens’ kicker’s name and they don’t want to give Google more traffic if the same thing happens here.

10:33 – The Giants just let the play clock run out and a delay of game penalty is called on them. How is this possible? No Giants’ win can ever be easy. Not one. FOX shows a replay of Eli pointing out the clock to Coughlin and telling him to call a timeout and Coughlin just stands there in a daze and allows it to happen. The 26-yard attempt is now a 31-yard attempt.

The 49ers call a timeout to ice the kicker after Coughlin just basically iced his own kicker. My heart can’t take this.

10:35 – HE DID IT! HE DID IT! HE DID IT! (Gary Thorne voice.) Tynes drills the field goal and then takes off the other way running like he did at Lambeau Field fours years ago.

Now this “four years ago” thing just needs to continue two weeks from tonight.

Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilKeefe

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