A ‘Would-Be’ Dynasty Dies
NFC Wrap-Up: Even the Gods Were Crying
Saying it was a good game; saying it was a truly close game; saying everybody did really well – all of these statements are a lot like when an Oscar loser says, “It’s an honor just to be nominated.”
Can the San Francisco 49ers be proud of their season? Absolutely. But, sorry, even with all the hard work and busting of guts, the Giants still walked away with the win. Whether by one point, three points, or fifty points, the 49ers did not renew a dynasty – they simply fell by the wayside yet again.
No. Before you all get mad out there I AM a 49ers fan and, like my mother who has routed for the Packers since the Lombardi trophy was first given out (and, let’s face it, there were A LOT of years where her team really stink, stank, stunk in there) – I have stood by the 49ers. From their Montana/Rice/Young heyday, to the many years when no one even knew who they were and thought Candlestick Park was an N’Sync song, I have been there. So yesterday I was there – I was on it – I was cheering – this was it. The red and gold were back on the scene! And what happens? The Giants come in and take them into OT just so we can receive a really boring ending and a Super Bowl match-up that has already been seen.
I have to tell you, there are other articles this week about the NFC, AFC, and Super Bowl predictors. You know, the experts. I love that word. Come on, the only expert was Obi Wan Kenobi and even he had to go into the force. For the past week the predictors were all about the fact that the 49ers were going to win. Most of the headlines stated that it was going to be all about the quarterback play. Of course, it wasn’t, it was all about the two defenses that just refused to let the quarterbacks do much of anything; and, unfortunately, the turnovers and mistakes that ended up to be seriously costly in the end.
Alex Smith has had a nice, breakout season – this is true. After having six extremely unremarkable years with the franchise, he did well. But, of course, for San Francisco the defense and special teams were where their power was at. Smith threw just five interceptions this year – which was great – but he also racked up only seventeen touchdown passes. It was against the Saints two weeks ago that Smith showed that he did have an arm (not Montana’s…but Joe Cool was a robot). Those experts (with the exception of two that I found) said that Alex Smith would face a relentless Giants pass rush and a back seven that has finally seemed to gel over the past month, but that with his front line and his defense, the 49ers had it in the bag.
On the other side, Eli Manning has been nearly flawless in the postseason, throwing for 607 yards and six touchdowns with just one interception in the two playoff games. Manning, unlike Brady who he will face on February 5th, has gone up the ladder “quietly.” He’s joining Brady in the elite quarterback category, but his mouth stays closed. He simply brings his ‘game’ on the field.
The NFC game began with both teams trying to establish a run game right off the bat. The 49ers depend on their running game, but I don’t think they had any idea that their big runner was actually going to be their quarterback. In this facet of play, Alex Smith reminds all 49ers fans of Steve Young; when Smith can’t find something, he simply takes off and goes.
If the ‘new’ dynasty could have been created yesterday, it would’ve excited fans because this new 49ers team is not about flashy statistics. Their ‘old-school’ game of running the ball, a hard defense, and a fantastic special teams has proven to be their winning formula. Part of that formula is winning the field position battle which they do on a weekly basis because they own the best punter (Andy Lee) and return units in the league. But when the chips were really down, that special teams in OT turned out to be not so special after all.
The Giants and 49ers last met in the NFC Championship Game twenty-one years ago this past Friday at Candlestick Park – where the top-seeded 49ers – and the defending Super Bowl champions – were favored against the second-seeded Giants. It was a defensive battle throughout, with only field goals on the board through the first half which ended in a 6-6 tie. The 49ers scored the game’s only touchdown in the third quarter on a 61-yard pass from Joe Montana to John Taylor that gave the hosts a 13-6 lead. But the 49ers didn’t score the rest of the way and the Giants eventually came within a point, 13-12, after two field goals. And as time expired, Matt Bahr nailed his fifth field goal, a 42-yarder, to send the Giants to Super Bowl XXV, where they defeated the Buffalo Bills (another boring Super Bowl.)
Coming into the game yesterday, the 49ers pass defense was average, and the Eli Manning’s of the world can take advantage of that. The 49ers finished 16th against the pass, having allowed 230.9 yards per game during the regular season. Against the league’s most prolific throwers, the Niners can be exploited. Two weeks ago, Drew Brees threw for 462 yards and four touchdowns. It was the third time this season the 49ers allowed more than 400 yards passing, and the sixth game where an opposing quarterback accumulated more than 300 yards. One of those 300-yard passers was Eli Manning, who threw for 311 against the 49ers in Week 10. Much like the Packers, the Niners rely on forcing turnovers to offset their deficiencies on defense.
Another issue is the fact that, with the exception of Vernon Davis, Alex Smith has barely anybody to throw the ball to. Davis posted 180 yards for receptions in this postseason – which is a record for a tight end – and two touchdowns. What makes it more amazing was the Saints, as well as the Giants, knew where the ball was going and still couldn’t defend him.
This game yesterday was a game of an ancient rivalry. And it showed. No one could do much of anything most of the time. It seemed that all you saw was the punter headed to the field. And there were more than a few times when it looked like a bunch of angry boys on the playground – with some face masks pulled and unsportsmanlike conduct at absolutely the worst times. The funniest part was the cameraman who seemed to be in love with Giants’ coach, Tom Coughlin. Every time the camera went to him he was swearing up a storm. You didn’t have to be a professional lip-reader to see that obscenities were what he was using to coach his team.
So the rivalry stands and the Giants walk away the winners, and they are headed into a Super Bowl where it actually will be the battle of the quarterbacks. Manning is good, he’s beaten them before…but Brady is the robot this time out. He’s the Montana and with his ‘no-huddle’ offense against a Giants defense that has really JUST started to gel and play together as a team, I have to call for the fact that the Patriots will win their fourth. (And no, I’m not happy about it.)
But the Niners would have been the “Cinderella” team that almost everyone (Giants fans aside) wanted to see go to the ‘big show.’ Did you see all that rain? Even the gods were crying on this one.
Until Next Time, Everybody.