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NFC Championship: Giants outlast 49ers in Overtime Thriller
It seemed unlikely that the NFC championship game could be any better then the AFC battle that took place earlier in the day, that saw the New England Patroits edge the Baltimore Ravens 23-20, to earn yet another trip to the Super Bowl. Well the San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants managed to do just that, in a game that featured almost everything and saw the Giants headed back to the Super Bowl thanks to a thrilling 20-17 overtime victory.
Edmonton - January 23, 2012 - It seemed unlikely that the NFC championship game could be any better then the AFC battle that took place earlier in the day, that saw the New England Patroits edge the Baltimore Ravens 23-20, to earn yet another trip to the Super Bowl. Well the San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants managed to do just that, in a game that featured almost everything and saw the Giants headed back to the Super Bowl thanks to a thrilling 20-17 overtime victory. The New England vs New York match up will be a rematch of Super Bowl XLII , which saw the Giants come out on top, in one of the most memorable championship games in NFL history.
After both sides started things off with a couple of uneventful drives, disaster nearly struck the Giants, when Eli Manning was stripped of the ball on third down but New York managed to recover the fumble and punted away the ball on fourth down. After nearly making the first big play of the afternoon, it wouldn't take the Niners long to make things happen on the ensuing drive.
After being stuffed on a short first down passing play, Alex Smith decided to air things out and hit Vernon Davis for a 73-yard catch and run touchdown, that sent the San Fran faithful into a frenzy. The play was reviewed to confirm Davis had stayed in bounds after the catch but the touchdown stood and the Giants were down seven, just past the miway point of the first quarter.
On the following drive, New York was driving into San Francisco territory but were stuffed on a fourth down gamble and gave the ball up on downs. However, the 49ers wasted little time in trying to give the ball right back to the Giants. On the very next play, San Francisco ran an ill-advised reverse play that nearly blew up in their face. With the wet conditions, it seemed like an odd play call and after mishandling the exchange, Kyle Williams luckily recovered the ball.
On the first play of the second quarter, New York was facing a third down conversion and Manning did what he does best and hit Victor Cruz for a 36-yard reception and suddenly the Giants were inside the Niners thirty yard line. Minutes later, Manning would find a wide open Bear Pascoe for a six yard touchdown pass. The Giants QB orchestrated the ten play drive, that took over four minute off the clock and put the visitors back on even terms.
With just over a 1:30 left in the opening half, the Giants started a drive on their own thirty-six yard line and proceeded to march the ball down the field to the 49ers twelve yard line and set up a 31-yard field goal from Lawrence Tynes. The drive featured four catches from Cruz, who put together an outstanding half of football. The second year receiver hooked up with Manning to haul in eight balls for a total of 125 yards in leading New York to a 10-7 lead at the half.
Kyle Williams nearly broke a huge punt return for Niners just past the midway point of the third quarter but he slipped on the wet turf and hit the turf on the his own at the forty-six yard line. While it could have been a monster return, he still managed to give his team great field position and it would only take the offence three plays to regain the lead.
After their initial running play was held to a two yard gain, Smith decided to put the ball in the air. First, he hit Frank Gore on a 24-yard catch and run play that moved the ball inside the thirty yard line and on the very next play, he would once again find Davis, for the 28-yard touchdown strike. The Giants had done a great job holding San Francisco in check all game long but two big plays by the Niners, put them up14-10 heading into the final quarter.
With just over a eleven minutes left in the game, New York caught a huge break when Steve Weatherford's punt bounced off the turf and glanced off Williams knee and the Giants Devin Thomas alertly recovered the ball. Initially the ball was ruled as not having touched the Niners kick returner but video replay clearly showed the ball hitting Williams on the knee. New York took over on San Francisco's twenty-nine yard line and would make the home side pay for their mistake.
After moving the ball back and forth between successful plays and penalties, the Giants would regain the lead when Manning found Mario Manningham with a 17-yard strike to put the visitors back in front 17-14. The reception was Manningham's first of the night but it could not have come at a better time.
On the ensuing kickoff, Williams would once again play a role in the proceedings, as he broke a forty yard return to give the 49ers great field position, up around the fifty yard line. San Francisco took full advantage of the opportunity and started to push forward, thanks to two well timed running plays. The first being a 17-yard scamper from quarterback Alex Smith, which was immediately followed up with an 18-yard dash from running back Kendall Hunter. Just like that, the ball was sitting on the Giants fifteen yard line and San Fran was on the verge of regaining the lead. To New York's credit, they held the 49ers out of the end zone but a David Akers 25-yard field goal would knot things up one more time.
Manning nearly drove the Giants down field in the final minute but San Francisco put an end to the drive at midfield and forced New York to punt the ball away, with under twenty-five seconds to play. The 49ers could not muster anything in the final seconds so the teams were off to overtime.
The NFL changed their overtime playoff rules this season and decided to take a bit of a CFL approach to the extra period. In previous years, the first team that scored would always be declared the winner in a sudden death scenario but that is no longer the case. Now, that will only occur if the receiving team scores a touchdown on their first drive. If they only manage to put up a field goal, the other team now has the opportunity to tie things up or win it with a touchdown. With that in mind, the Giants won the coin toss and decided to receive the kickoff in extra time.
After both sides failed to move the ball in their initial drives, the Giants were given a second crack at it and the San Francisco defence was up to the task one more time and forced New York to punt the ball away. Unfortunately for the 49ers, Williams was stripped of the ball on the punt return and for the second time in the half, San Francisco's special teams turned it over. Just like on the earlier Williams mishap, it was Thomas who would recover his second fumble of the day, just outside the 49ers twenty yard line.
After moving the ball forward, New York brought out Tynes to end the proceedings with what amounted to a 26-yard chip shot but the Giants took a delay of game penalty, which made it a 31-yard attempt. No problem for Tynes, who stepped up and nailed the ball between the uprights and in turn, sent the New York Giants to Super Bowl XLVII.
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