The Giants were angry and disgusted when they walked off the field at Candlestick Park on Nov. 13.
They had entered the fourth quarter with a one-point lead against a 49ers team that was then 7-1. But defensive lapses resulted in two relatively uncontested San Francisco touchdowns. The Giants closed to within seven points on Hakeem Nicks’ touchdown reception, but their bid to tie the score in the final minute ended when Justin Smith batted down Eli Manning’s fourth-down pass.
In the postgame locker room, the Giants lamented their lost opportunity. And they looked forward to a potential rematch.
Now they have it – in the same location. A 37-20 dismantling of the defending champion and top-seeded Packers yesterday in Green Bay moved the Giants into this week’s NFC Championship Game. Against the 49ers. In Candlestick Park.
“It’s a rematch that we wanted,” linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said in the Lambeau Field locker room. “We earned it. But now we’ve got to go out there and prove it.”
“It’s very motivating,” wide receiver Victor Cruz said of the loss to the 49ers. “We understand that game came down to the wire and we were one play away from potentially winning that ballgame. It’s a little sweet to go out there and play a team that we’ve already played and know that we’ve fought tooth-and-nail with. Hopefully, it doesn’t come down to the wire; hopefully, we can win the game pretty well. As long as we can execute and do all the things we know how to do, we’ll be okay.”
Linebacker Michael Boley left the game just prior to halftime with a hamstring injury that would sideline him for the next two games. Asked what he recalls about the meeting with the 49ers, Boley said, “Just the fight, the determination we went out there and played with. Guys played with a lot of passion that game, a lot of fire. So it was kind of, some guys learned, we should have won this game.”
Every Giant believes that, yet they also have great respect for the second-seeded 49ers, who finished 13-3 in the regular season and defeated New Orleans, 36-32, in a thrilling divisional playoff game on Saturday. Though they are happy to get another shot at the Niners, the Giants are downplaying the revenge factor. The first game no longer matters. All that is important now is the game’s high stakes, with a trip to Super Bowl XLVI on the line.
“They’re just in the way of where we want to be,” linebacker Michael Boley. “Obviously, that’s the Super Bowl.”
“We’re excited,” quarterback Eli Manning said. “It’s a big game and they’re playing great football. We know what to expect with them. They’re very a sound team. They’re very good. They have good players. They play with great energy. Their secondary has good players in it. They’re good all around. They play smart football. Their offense doesn’t turn the ball over. They run the ball. (Quarterback) Alex Smith is playing well. We know we’re going to have to play that same way. We’re going to have to play smart. Offensively, we’re going to have to be very consistent. Everybody is going to know their assignments. It’s just about execution.”
This is the second week in a row the Giants have an opportunity to avenge a regular season loss. They lost the Packers on Dec. 4 in MetLife Stadium, 38-35, before beating them handily yesterday.
“I don’t think it had anything to do with us seeing a team a second time,” safety Antrel Rolle said. “I think it was just more of a mindset that we had and the preparation that we’ve been going through throughout the week. Ever since the (Jets) game we’ve been all on deck, guys have been in tune with what’s going on here, what’s at stake. That had the most to do with anything.”
In the first 49ers game, the Giants outgained San Francisco, 395-305, had 21 first downs to 16 for the home team and owned the ball for a season-high 34:37. That means very little to the Giants as they begin preparing for the title game.
“Doesn’t matter about the first time around, all that matters is what happens right now, this week,” tackle Kareem McKenzie said. “That’s all we’re going to focus on. It does help that we’ve played them before in that environment, so there’ll be some relative familiarity with the situation. But at the same time, we have to approach this game with a new sense of vigor and energy.”
“It gives you something to look back on,” Boley said. “For us being able to play them again, it kind of gives us what we had against Green Bay. We had a chance to play them in the regular season, and learn how they were going to attack us.”
Center David Baas, who played the first six years of his career for the 49ers, said, “Honestly, I won’t go back and look at that one. I’ll go back and look at the film on it, but I won’t look at the stats on it. We know based on what happened in the Packers game, with some of the stuff they gave us, their coordinators are similar in doing some of the stuff that the Packers coordinator was. So we know they’re going to try some different things there. We’ll have to be ready for similar things and some of the things they did when we had some success out there, they threw some stuff at us. That’s where being focused and expecting certain things, being able to execute when they do try to throw a curveball at you is going to come into play.”
The Giants have won four consecutive games, a streak that would give any team a jolt of confidence. But beyond the numbers, the Giants like their attitude and determination. They have reprised the road warriors who stormed to a Super Bowl victory four years ago.
Several Giants were asked today if they felt unbeatable or unstoppable as they prepare for the 49ers.
“We wouldn’t say we’re unstoppable, but our mindset is extreme at this point,” Rolle said. “We’re not going to be denied. That’s our mindset. I might be a little biased, but in our minds we can’t be beat. That’s the approach we’re taking week-in and week-out.”
“That’s a tricky word,” Cruz said, “but in a sense we do feel like, if we’re playing like we’ve been playing, if we’re executing at a high level the way we’ve been playing, we’re a tough team to stop.”
The big difference from earlier in the season, the players say, is in the team’s collective attitude down the stretch and into the playoffs.
“We are very excited about winning,” Coach Tom Coughlin said. “We enjoy the postgame and the locker room. The guys are very, very much into it. They are excited and emotional and by the time we get it out, we are talking about the next game. This morning, they are in here with the idea of looking forward, so I think they have handled it well and continue to.”
The players have followed Coughlin’s direction to keep looking ahead and not dwell on the past, no matter how recent.
“It’s just a mindset, a different mindset from what we were six or seven weeks ago from the way we approached things,” Boley said. “Everything’s different. It goes from not one person not held accountable for what we do around here every day.
“(It’s) never quit, and we have to finish what we started. We started the season on a good note, and it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. That’s one of the things that Tom has told us from Day 1, right when we stepped in here for training camp, it’s ‘Finish.’ Make sure we finish everything we do.”
“We’re not going to be denied at this point,” Rolle said. “We understand what we have as a team. It’s not all about talent. It’s about chemistry. We’re gelling at this point. Coaches and players are on the same page at the same time. We have one goal in mind, which is to win the championship.”
Sunday in San Francisco, they will take the next big step toward achieving that goal.
*One day after Nicks made the play of the game with his great leap on a 37-yard Hail Mary touchdown on the final play of the first half, Coughlin was asked about the wide receiver’s hands – which are uncommonly large.
“These are special hands,” Coughlin said. “I can give you a couple guys that I personally coached that were great players. This guy gets his hands on the ball and like I said last night, when I saw those red gloves go up, he is going to be up above everybody else and we would have a good chance of catching that one. I could appreciate it even if I was an offensive line coach. That is pretty special.”
*Boley led the Giants yesterday with nine tackles (eight solo), including his first two career postseason sacks.
“Michael Boley played very well last night,” Coughlin said. “He did an awful lot of things. He rushed the passer with the two sacks, he had hits on the quarterback, he was very physical in his tackling and he covered well. He displayed a lot of the things that he can do last night and when he is on the field, we have a lot more options then we have when he is not.”
*Coughlin did not mention a specific player when asked about injuries from the game.
“There are always some people after a physical game like that,” he said. “Whether you are worried about it or not, you have to wait until Wednesday. Today and tomorrow are big days as far as exactly what the issues are and if it is anything that will go forward or not. Right now, I would say I don’t think so but we will see.”