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The rain couldn't dampen the spirits of the Giants fans who made the trip to San Francisco to watch their beloved team face off against the 49ers in the NFC championship game. Bruce Beck reports from Candlestick Park.
The Giants beat the 49ers 20-17 with a dramatic 31-yard field goal in overtime for the NFC Championship and are headed to the Super Bowl for the first time in four years to face the Patriots in the same matchup as 2008.
The last time the G-Men faced the Patriots in the Super Bowl, they won 17 to 14.
And you can bet that Kyle Williams will never have to buy a drink again if there happens to be a Giants fan nearby. The NFC Championship Game appeared to be getting away from the Giants in the fourth quarter Sunday when Williams made the inexplicable decision to run toward a punt he had no intention of fielding.
The punt bounced off his knee, Devin Thomas recovered it at the 49ers' 29 and Eli Manning, hounded throughout the second half by the Niners defense, fired a touchdown pass to Mario Manningham and gave the Giants a 17-14 lead in the fourth quarter.
The 49ers would tie the game on a David Akers field goal and then a battle began that wound up sending the game into overtime. That's when Williams struck again.
After the second Giants possession of the extra period ended with a second punt, Williams fumbled while carrying the ball far too carelessly and Thomas fell on it once again.
Lawrence Tynes ended it a few plays later with a 31-yard field goal that gave the Giants a 20-17 win and a ticket to Indianapolis. That gets them a rematch with the Patriots, a team that was given similar gifts from the Ravens to help them get to the big game.
Williams should probably get a ring if the Giants knock off the Patriots, and the team should also come up with a thank-you gift for the officials. They blew a fourth-quarter Ahmad Bradshaw run absurdly early, negating a fumble that would have put the 49ers in position to kick a field goal that could have won the game.
Outside of Williams' miscues, it was a game notable for two incredible defensive efforts. It was rainy and windy at Candlestick, giving the game a retro feel that the defenses added to every time they crushed an offensive player.
Manning was hit early and often by a relentless 49ers pass rush and the team struggled to move the ball at all outside of a couple of decent first half drives. The Giants ran the ball often, but calling their attempts pedestrian would be an insult to actual pedestrians.
Manning got breaks, most notably two would-be interceptions that were thwarted by 49ers defensive backs slamming into each other while pursuing the ball. He was able to connect with Victor Cruz 10 times for 142 yards, but the rest of his line -- 22-of-48 for 174 yards -- was a much better indication of the kind of day it was for Manning.
Manning's numbers can't express how tough he was in the face of a defense that would have wrecked most quarterbacks. His fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Manningham was a perfect throw and he never shied away from making a play even though he would wind up getting hit 19 times over the course of the afternoon.
It was a fitting continuation of a dream season for Manning. The year started with questions about whether or not he was an elite quarterback and Sunday put an exclamation point on the affirmative.
As tough as Sunday was for the Giants offense, it was even worse for the 49ers. Alex Smith and Vernon Davis hooked up on two long touchdown passes, but Smith completed just one pass to his wide receivers all day and the team never converted a third-down opportunity in the game.
That defense is what made it possible for the Giants to survive long enough to turn Williams' blunders into an NFC title. It's always nice to be lucky, but it usually doesn't mean anything if you aren't also pretty good.
This Giants team is pretty good. We'll find out if they're great in two weeks.