NFL playoff games are intense and tempers will rise on both sidelines due to what is at stake. It is win or go home. Sometimes, non-divisional rivalries develop between teams simply because they have become annual foes in the postseason. One such rivalry that has grown over the years is the epic January battles between the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers.
The teams have met eight times in the playoffs with each side winning four games apiece. But the Giants hold a 2-0 advantage over the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. One of the best games played in the series is the 2011 title game that ended with a Giants 20-17 overtime win. The New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers have had some great battles in the playoffs.
New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers: Bitter Playoff Rivalry
A Screen Pass Saved 2011 Season
In the 2011 regular season, The Giants were considered a major disappointment as they finished with a 9-7 record and barely won the NFC East title. It took a decisive 31-14 home win over the Dallas Cowboys to capture the division crown in Week 17.
The Giants were a very talented team that just couldn’t get out of their own way. They started the season with a 4-2 record, but went only went .500 the rest of the way, including a four game losing streak. At first it appeared the Giants were almost a lock to make another playoff appearance, but then they were close to not even making the playoffs. But Christmas came early for the G-Men in the form of a total team effort to break themselves out of their doldrums and re-gain control of their own postseason destiny.
Momentum is a precious commodity in professional sports. If captured, it can quickly turn around a dismal situation, Usually, momentum is gained by the smallest of plays and for the Giants it came on a simple screen pass.
All of their frustrations were lifted on Victor Cruz’s 99-yard touchdown run against the cross-town rivals, New York Jets, in a Week 16 road win at the Meadowlands. The momentum-changing scoring play awoke the Giants from their month-long slumber. It gave the G-Men the confidence to believe no team could defeat them moving forward.
A Rivalry Renewed in the Bay Area
The Giants and 49ers met earlier in the season as the Niners came out the victors in a hard-fought 20-17 home win. The loss was the start of that four-game losing streak for the Giants. However, in their return trip to the Bay Area, the G-Men were playing their best football of the season after defeating the NFC’s top-seeded team, Green Bay Packers, in the prior week.
The weather conditions were not a friend to either team as it rained throughout most of the first half. But it did not stop both offenses from moving the ball downfield and putting points on the scoreboard. The Niners jumped out to an early 7-0 lead when Alex Smith threw a 73-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis. The Giants countered with an Eli Manning touchdown pass to Bear Pascoe to tie the game at seven. Right before half, Lawrence Tynes kicked a 31-yard field goal to give the Giants a 10-7 lead.
Halfway through the third quarter, Smith threw another touchdown pass to Davis to give the 49ers a 14-10 lead. The Giants re-gained the lead at 17-14 with a Manning to Mario Manningham touchdown pass. The Niners forced overtime with a David Akers 25-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter.
Uncharacteristic Mistake Decided Game’s Outcome
Uncharacteristic mistakes seem to best define this great rivalry. In the 1990 NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park, 49ers running back Roger Craig’s fumble late in the fourth quarter set the Giants up for a 15-13 win on Matt Bahr’s fifth field goal of the game. Giants fans will never forget Trey Junkin’s poor snap of the football on a potential game-winning field goal attempt in the Niners thrilling 39-38 win in 2002.
So, it did not surprise anyone that this game’s outcome was decided by a miscue. In overtime, Niners punt returner Kyle Williams had the ball stripped out of his hands and the Giants recovered it deep in 49ers territory. The offense perfectly positioned the football for Tynes to kick the game-winning 31-yard field goal that put the Giants in the Super Bowl.
Keys To the Victory
In the aftermath, one of the keys to the Giants victory was they did not have a turnover in the contest. The 2011 Niners defense loved to take advantage of their opponents by forcing turnovers. They had a plus-28 margin in the regular season. But on this afternoon, the 49ers turned the football over twice that resulted in three points for the Giants.
Both offensives were the stars of the game as they combined for nearly 700 yards gained in the contest. Manning had a great game as he threw for 316 yards and two touchdown passes. He was pinpoint accurate with his pass attempts, especially on third down. The Giants were five for six on third-down conversions, with Cruz (10 catches for 142 yards) being Manning’s favorite target in the contest.
The overtime win put the Giants in the Super Bowl for their second appearance in five seasons and a chance to renew their rivalry with the New England Patriots.