NEW YORK GIANTS (11-7) at SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (14-3) (Sunday, FOX, 6:30 PM ET)
The NFC Championship Game marks the eighth postseason meeting between the Giants and 49ers, with San Francisco currently holding a 4-3 edge in the series. New York won the lone Conference Championship meeting between these two clubs, earning a 15-13 victory in San Francisco en route to a Super Bowl XXV title.
The game will feature a pair of former No. 1 overall NFL Draft picks, ELI MANNING (2004) and ALEX SMITH (2005), the second time in NFL playoff history two former No. 1 QBs will start against each other in a Conference Championship Game. The other occurrence pitted JOHN ELWAY’s Broncos against the Jets’ VINNY TESTAVERDE in the 1998 AFC title game.
The 49ers advanced to their 13th NFC Championship Game with a thrilling 36-32 victory over New Orleans last week. San Francisco’s 13 Championship Game appearances are the third-most in the NFL since the 1970 merger.
“I’m just really proud of our team,” says 49ers head coach JIM HARBAUGH. “You’re going to live or die in these games. We lived. We move on and we move on in spectacular fashion.”
Last week’s Divisional contest between the 49ers and Saints was the first game in NFL postseason history that had four go-ahead touchdowns within a span of four minutes of playing time. For San Francisco, quarterback ALEX SMITH had a 28-yard TD run with 2:11 remaining and threw the game-winning 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end VERNON DAVIS with nine seconds left in the contest. Smith became the first player in NFL history to score a go-ahead touchdown and throw a go-ahead touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of the same playoff game.
“That was about as good as it gets,” says Smith about the victory. “It feels great. We’re still playing. We’ve got another week of work and I don’t want this to end. Nobody in that locker room does because it’s been such a great year.”
Smith’s TD pass to Davis with nine seconds left was the fourth go-ahead and eventual game-winning touchdown pass with less than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter of a postseason game in 49ers history: JOE MONTANA’s six-yard TD pass to DWIGHT CLARK with 51 seconds left (1981 NFC Championship); Montana’s 10-yard TD pass to JOHN TAYLOR with 34 seconds remaining (Super Bowl XXIII); and STEVE YOUNG’s 25-yard TD pass to TERRELL OWENS with three seconds left (1998 Wild Card).
“This is huge for us,” says Davis, who set a postseason record for receiving yards by a tight end with 180, passing Pro Football Hall of Famer KELLEN WINSLOW (166). “It’s history, legendary, anything you can describe.”
The Giants, who are in the midst of their NFL-best 31st playoff appearance, avenged a 38-35 loss to Green Bay in Week 13. Manning passed for 330 yards and three touchdowns, including a 37-yarder to wide receiver HAKEEM NICKS on the last play of the first half.
“I was the jump man,” said Nicks, who became the third player in NFL history with two touchdown catches of at least 65 yards in the same postseason, joining TIM BROWN and ISAAC BRUCE. “I got down there and I didn’t even see who was around me. All I saw was the ball and once I saw the ball, I had to jump and get it. I don’t even know where I landed in the end zone. Once I went up and got it, I looked around and it was exciting.”
New York’s defense forced the Packers to commit four turnovers, their highest total of the season, including three fumbles and an interception by safety DEON GRANT. Linebacker MICHAEL BOLEY and defensive end OSI UMENYIORA also registered two sacks apiece for the Giants.
“We know we’re a good football team and we’re a great defense,” says Umenyiora, who has 12 sacks in 11 games played this season, including the playoffs. “This is the postseason and we’re playing the way we’re supposed to be playing right now.