By Tom Pollin
NFC Conference Championship Correspondent
For the second time in his career Lawrence Tynes kicked an overtime field goal to send the Giants to the Super Bowl to play the New England Patriots. Here are five things we learned as Eli Manning gets ready to spend February 5th
at his brother’s house for Super Bowl Sunday.
1. Peyton really is the “other Manning brother” now that the NFC Championship Game is over.
With the Giants’ victory, Eli matches his brother's record for the Super Bowl appearances by a Manning with two. A win by the Giants on Super Bowl Sunday would be Eli's second victory in two appearances and make him the Manning family champion. Peyton has one victory in two attempts and the patriarch of the family, Archie, brings up the rear with zero. Eli also became the first quarterback in NFL history to win five road playoff games.
Manning started the game slow but didn’t let that rattle him in any way. He had a 65.0 passer rating after the first quarter on six completions in 11 attempts for 46 yards and finished the game with a passer rating of 101.1 despite a heavy pass rush by the 49ers’ defensive front. They sacked Manning six times and hit him while throwing 20 more times.
Manning threw 58 times on an evening where conditions didn’t favor the passing game. He completed 32 passes to eight different receivers for 316 yards and two touchdowns.
2. Victor Cruz picked a great game to re-establish himself as Eli Manning’s most dangerous receiving target.
Cruz squeezed a full g
ame’s worth of production into the second quarter against the 49ers. Cruz was matched against cornerback Carlos Rogers and took advantage with seven catches for 113 yards. The first drive of the quarter, Manning teamed with Cruz to drive the team down to the six yard line before Manning finished by hooking up with Bear Pasco for his first pro touchdown to tie the game at seven.
Cruz caught four more passes for 56 yards on the Giants' final possession of the quarter that finished with a 31 yard Lawrence Tynes field goal and a 10-7 lead at the half. In the second half the 49ers changed their coverage on Cruz to Chris Culliver and also provided more safety help to keep Cruz under control. Cruz finished the game with 10 catches for 142 yards.
3. The Giants defense was able to contain the 49ers despite conditions that were ideal for the 49ers power running game.
The 49ers did run the ball effectively during the game. They rushed 28 times and gained an average of 5.4 yards per carry to take advantage of the Giants' No. 23 Rushing Yards per Attempt defense. The Giants were much more successful keeping the 49ers’ passing game contained though.
Alex Smith had a passer rating of 97.6 but in this instance, that doesn’t tell the entire story. Three of those completions went to Vernon Davis for 112 yards and two touchdowns. The 49ers’ other tight end, Delanie Walker, contributed another two catches for 36 yards. While the 49ers’ tight ends did some damage, the Giants’ defensive schemes completely shut down their wide receivers. Nine of Smith’s 26 pass attempts were targeted towards wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Kyle Williams with only one catch for three yards by Crabtree to show for the effort.
The Giants held the 49ers to one successful third down conversion in 13 attempts. That might be one of the main reasons why Jim Harbaugh decided to decline a running into the kicker penalty that would have given the 49ers a fourth and one at the Giants' 46 yard line early in the third quarter. The 49er defense had just held the Giants to a three-and-out on their previous possession and were probably playing their best football of the game at that point. Harbaugh took the results of the kick and passed on a possible scoreing drive.
4. The Giants’ ability to play smart, mistake free football made the difference in the game.
The Giants didn’t have a turnover on a day that invited the possibility of a sloppily played game. They only fumbled once, in the first quarter on a sack by Ray Mcdonald who knocked the ball out of Manning’s hand. Tackle Kareem McKenzie was finally able to fall on the ball to prevent the 49ers from obtaining great field position at the Giants' 30.
They did take full advantage of the two turnovers provided by the 49ers though. The punt in the fourth quarter that grazed Kyle William’s knee and was recovered by Devin Thomas at the 49ers’ 29 yard line turned into the Mario Manningham touchdown that gave the Giants a 17-14 lead. The second fumbled punt was in overtime and put the Giants in position for the eventual game winning field goal.
5. The Giants obviously have no respect for odds or other numbers that say they're not supposed to be where they are.
The 49ers came into the NFC Championship Game after also having a number of advantages in the Quality Stat rankings. The 49ers were No. 3 in the Quality Stats Power Rankings and had held at or near that spot all season, even holding No. 1 at times. They had only surrendered 12.1 points per game at home, including the 32 they gave up in their Divisional Round game against the Saints. They were also No. 1 and 2 in Bendability and Scoreability rankings which measure efficiency on defense and offense instead of relying on standard yardage statistics to determine effectiveness.
Tom Coughlin has a history of coaching teams to wins in games they had no business being close in. Coughlin’s Boston College Eagles knocked off Lou Holtz’s unbeaten, No. 1 ranked Notre Dame team 43-39 on a last-second field goal in 1993. Four short years ago the Giants made an improbable run to the Super bowl after finishing second in the NFC North with a 10-6 record. Once there they spoiled New England’s hopes for a perfect season with a 14-6 victory in the Super Bowl.
Since the 2002 division and playoff realignment only one other team has advanced from the Wild Card round to the Super Bowl with only nine wins during the season. The 2008 Arizona Cardinals also managed to accomplish this after winning the NFC West with a 9-7 record. They lost a tightly played Super Bowl to the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-23.
The Giants seem to enjoy defying expectations, especially when they’re only expected to just make a quick cameo appearance and a quick exit. The minute Lawrence Tynes' field goal split the uprights the New England Patriots were installed as 3-1/2 point favorites to win Super Bowl XLVI. On February 5th we’ll see if the Giants have anything to say about that.