Giants, Niners travel down memory lane on Super Bowl path
Posted: Friday, January 20, 2012 7:08 pm
By JANIE McCAULEY
AP Sports Writer
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The Giants boasted a physical, intimidating defense with athletic linebackers and stout linemen capable of stifling the NFL’s most productive offenses. San Francisco featured a high-powered passing attack led by an eventual Hall of Fame quarterback in his prime with receivers capable of turning short passes into big gains.
When the San Francisco 49ers host the New York Giants in the NFC championship game Sunday for a shot at the Super Bowl, the matchup conjures memories from a previous era of this great rivalry — even if the roles are somewhat reversed.
The elite quarterback now is New York’s Eli Manning, who connects on big plays to Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz in a similar fashion to how Joe Montana and Jerry Rice did for the dominant Niners in the 1980s.
San Francisco’s current front seven led by relentless defensive lineman Justin Smith, rookie pass-rushing specialist Aldon Smith and fierce linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman resembles that old Giants group featuring Hall of Famers Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson.
And who could have predicted this surprising pairing?
The Giants (11-7) toppled defending champion Green Bay 37-20 last Sunday when everybody figured the road to the Super Bowl would go through Lambeau Field. Instead, New York is traveling West to San Francisco to face the upstart 49ers (14-3) in a meeting of franchises with so many fresh faces on the big stage.
Jim Harbaugh’s “mighty men” as he calls them stunned Drew Brees and the favored Saints 36-32 when Alex Smith hit Vernon Davis for the game-winning 14-yard touchdown with 9 seconds remaining.
Smith knows both the 49ers and Giants showed it’s anybody’s game come playoff time.
“Look at last week, I think everybody thought the road was going to go through Lambeau. I think everybody assumed the NFC championship game was going to get played there and look what happens,” Smith said. “These teams at this point, everybody’s as good as each other and it’s all going to come down to how you execute on that day. We’re all capable of beating each other, that’s for sure.”
Smith and Manning each orchestrated five fourth-quarter comebacks during the regular season, yet Manning missed in a 27-20 loss at San Francisco on Nov. 13 when Justin Smith batted away his last-ditch pass attempt on fourth down in the waning moments.
“This is about the NFC championship. It’s an opportunity to get this win and go on to the Super Bowl,” Manning said.
Niners long snapper Brian Jennings is the only one left on either side from San Francisco’s last trip to the playoffs in January 2003, when the 49ers rallied for a stunning 39-38 comeback victory against the Giants at Candlestick Park. San Francisco also had beaten New York during the regular season that year.
It’s sold out for Sunday’s game with rain in the forecast as the 49ers look for their first trip to the NFC title game since the 1997 season.
Ravens at Patriots
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Tom Brady and the New England Patriots made it to the AFC championship game with a high-powered offense that piled up points and yards.
Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens got there with a hard-hitting defense that made it a major challenge for opponents to move the ball.
On Sunday, one of those teams will advance to the Super Bowl because, most likely, of what they do best.
“We’ve got our hands full this week,” Lewis said. “You watched what they did last week against Denver, just the way they came out and ran their offense, how efficient (Brady) was, how many different receivers he hit with the ball. I think their offense, period, is playing at a very high level.”
From start to finish, Brady picked apart the Denver defense in a 45-10 divisional playoff win.
The Patriots (14-3) needed five plays to score on their first series on Brady’s 7-yard pass to Wes Welker. It took them seven plays to reach the end zone on their second series on Brady’s 10-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski.
By halftime, Brady had thrown five of his six touchdown passes.
He had plenty of time to survey the field as the Broncos put little pressure on him. The Ravens don’t plan to let that happen.
Published in The Messenger 1.20.12