‘From the Pressbox’
By Ernie Palladino
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Ernie is the author of “Lombardi and Landry.”
It sounds so trite at this point.
Keep working. Keep striving. Never give up.
Those messages, in one form or another, in so much or so little verbiage, appear on signs in every NFL locker room in the country. And yet, only two teams make it to the Super Bowl every year.
This year, the Giants made it because they never did give in to a gritty, hard-charging 49ers team in Sunday’s 20-17 NFC Championship victory in overtime. Even as Eli Manning got hammered for six sacks, even as the Niners’ defense turned Victor Cruz into a basic non-factor the last two quarters and overtime after a spectacular first half, they never let the fire go out.
It has been their pattern under Tom Coughlin. They may have their games where they look disgraceful. They may have had their games this year where things let down in the late going. But pride in one’s work was never an issue.
And the reward now is a spot in Super Bowl XLVI, right next to the Patriots squad they beat in Super XLII in 2007.
So where yesterday was the evidence of this work ethic? Right there in the overtime period, right after Justin Smith dumped Manning for a sixth time to seemingly give the Niners another chance to win it. But there was rookie linebacker Jacquian Williams, playing like he was too young to know what overtime pressure was, flying in on punt returner Kyle Williams to hook his arm and jar the ball loose.
And there was Devin Thomas, right on the spot to cover that fumble at the Niners’ 24 to set up yet another momentous win.
Ahmad Bradshaw didn’t stop working, either. Held to 74 yards total by the league’s best run defense, Bradshaw made his most decisive runs after the recovery, first going for 8, and then 6, and then 4 to get it to the San Francisco 6 and give Tynes a basic chip shot after Manning’s centering kneel a yard back.
And even when the field goal team inadvertently let the clock run down — Tom Coughlin never saw it in time to call timeout — Tynes was still cool. And he remained that way as Niners coach Jim Harbaugh tried to freeze him, a move against a veteran kicker that carries all the triteness of those locker room signs.
It didn’t work, as Tynes put his kick almost perfectly between the uprights.
Then again, why should he have been spooked. He hit a much harder one in icy Green Bay, in overtime, to put that 2007 team in the Super Bowl.
There was plenty of hard work done before that, too. After the Niners tied the game at 17 on David Akers’ 25-yard field goal with 5:39 left in regulation, the Giants’ defense didn’t have a late-game breakdown. Instead, they sent the Niners out three-and-out, three-and-out, and three-and-out to end regulation, and then added another one for good measure in overtime. Jason Pierre-Paul was a monster again, dropping the ever-dangerous Frank Gore for minus-2 yards in overtime.
And Kenny Phillips, a victim on tight end Vernon Davis’ second touchdown of the day, turned in a heads-up play on third down to stop him a yard short of the marker to force a punt.
They do keep working, this team. And that ethic has brought them yet another opportunity for pro football’s ultimate reward.
They’re going to Indianapolis. They’re facing the Patriots — again.
They still have work to do, this 9-7 team that barely made the playoffs. But, as they’ve proved, with a week or two, and 67 minutes or so of hard work, anything is possible.
The signs may be trite. But the message is real, and it works. The Giants proved that in Candlestick Park.
Who was the hero of Sunday night’s NFC title game? Be heard in the comments below…