The Giants are returning to SF for NFC title clash
The stars just keep aligning for the 49ers in a season that just keeps getting brighter and brighter by the moment. A San Francisco team most observers didn’t even consider a playoff contender entering the season will be hosting the NFC Championship Game next Sunday at Candlestick Park, with a trip to Super Bowl XLVI waiting as a reward for the Niners if they win.
The second-seeded Niners will be at home for the NFC’s title tilt instead of traveling to play at icy Lambeau Field next weekend because the top-seeded Green Bay Packers were shocked 37-20 by the fourth-seeded New York Giants in Sunday’s other NFC playoff semifinal, ending the Packers’ reign as defending Super Bowl champions in front of their stunned home fans.
The Giants dominated the heavily-favored Packers, setting up a rematch of San Francisco’s 27-20 victory over New York at Candlestick Park on November 13, a pivotal game during the eight-game winning streak that signaled the 49ers’ return to NFL prominence.
The 49ers (14-3) will be hosting their ninth NFC Championship Game since 1970 when the Giants (11-7) come to town for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff. New York has had an impressive run so far in the playoffs, routing Atlanta 24-2 last week at home in the Wild Card round.
The 49ers were pretty impressive themselves in reaching the NFC title game for the 13th time since 1970. They earned their ticket with a dramatic 36-32 victory over the New Orleans Saints at Candlestick Park on Saturday.
That was San Francisco’s 20th playoff victory and the first for the franchise since the Niners’ memorable 39-38 victory over the Giants in a NFC Wild-Card game in January of 2003. The 49ers rallied from a 38-14 deficit in that game, the second-biggest comeback in NFL playoff history.
The 49ers lost to Tampa Bay in the NFC playoff semifinals the next week, and that was their last playoff game before returning to the postseason this season after an eight-year absence.
The 49ers are 5-7 in NFC Championship Games, including a 4-4 record at home. One of those home losses was to the Giants, who rallied late to stun the 49ers 15-13 in the final seconds of the 1990 title game, ending San Francisco’s run as two-time defending Super Bowl champions and depriving the Joe Montana/Jerry Rice/Ronnie Lott 49ers of a third consecutive trip to NFL’s title game.
The Niners hold a 4-3 edge over the Giants in playoff clashes between the two teams. New York’s only postseason victory over the 49ers in San Francisco came in that 1990 NFC title game.
For quarterback Eli Manning and the Giants, Lambeau Field has become a familiar launching pad. After beating the Packers at home for the second time in four years, they only hope this trip ends the same way — at the Super Bowl.
Manning threw for 330 yards and three touchdown passes, out-dueling Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers to send the Giants to San Francisco next week. The Packers came into the game after recording the NFL’s best regular-season record at 15-1.
The Giants stunned the Packers with a touchdown off a long heave just before halftime, then knocked them out with a late touchdown off a turnover. Lambeau Field fell silent as the Giants swarmed the field in celebration, with a handful of New York fans chanting, "Let's go, Giants!"
The win came four years after the Giants beat a Brett Favre-led Packers team in the NFC title game. It wasn't nearly as frigid this time around, and the Packers' vulnerable defense seemed to be waiting to get sliced up.
Manning found six different receivers against a porous Packers defense. But Manning did the most damage with his throws to Hakeem Nicks, who caught seven passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns. Nicks' biggest play was a 66-touchdown catch at the end of the first half.
Manning passed for 311 yards and two touchdowns against the 49ers during the November loss in San Francisco. One of those scoring passes was to Nicks, drawing the Giants within seven points in the fourth quarter.
The Giants' defense also was able to defuse the big-play abilities of Rodgers and the Packers' offense.
Rodgers was 26 of 46 for 264 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception. He also was the Packers' leading rusher with 66 yards on seven carries.
But it wasn’t nearly enough to hold off the Giants, setting up an intriguing rematch next week – and leaving the 49ers unexpectedly at home throughout the NFC playoffs.