SAN FRANCISCO–It’s not hard, as the G-Men are more complete than X-Men and the Fantastic Four superhero team, to identify the best defensive team in the NFL. It was just this moment, this game, this opportunity for the New York Giants to travel to Indianapolis for the Super Bowl.
What we have, ladies and gentleman, is suddenly a Super Bowl XLII rematch. It’s ridiculous to dismiss a tough, monstrous team, as the Giants are hot right now, definitely playing at the highest level after punching their ticket to the biggest game of the season for a shot at another trophy.
We’ll always remember the game-winning, 31-yard field goal by place kicker Lawrence Tynes in sudden-death overtime that sent the Giants to the Super Bowl with a 20-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game Sunday night. We’ll always remember the wild celebration for a fabulous team that has achieved the improbable.
Back home at old Candlestick Park, the 49ers and head coach Jim Harbaugh had become culturally a social, Bay Area sensation for stunning the world with an astonishing playoff run. But now the Giants are remarkable, loaded with all-around, dangerous men – including second-year defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora who have anchored a ferocious defense. And with the potent offense – among them — Victor Cruz, Ahmad Bradshaw and Hakeem Nicks, the Giants dangerously have a fearsome, well-rounded NFL team.
This all seemed so familiar. It almost feels similar to 2007 for a team on the verge of repeating its own history — now just one win away from another title. It’s what the Giants dreamed of this season, although it wasn’t a perfect season but it was good enough for New York to qualify for the playoffs and make a run almost in every game that mattered.
It’s what Giants quarterback Eli Manning dreamed, reaching a crescendo in surely what was his breakthrough season, proving to be greater than we projected. The rain started dropping heavily at Candlestick Park, and Manning had thrown for 316 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
“That was a tough game. We had to fight for every yard that we got,” Manning said. “Defense was outstanding, special teams getting us two turnovers was. That led to 10 points.”
Manning was not perfect in which he was hit 20 times — he was sacked six times — and certainly he exposed his toughness in the pocket to avoid sacks. That was done brilliantly, play by play, in this particular game where Manning was poised and confident against one of NFL’s relentless defenses, as he became the first quarterback to win five playoff games on the road. The longest active consecutive starts streak is held by Manning with 119 straight games as a starter.
If he’s now truly an elite thrower, surrounded by a sturdy defense that managed to hold Alex Smith and the Niners to only three points in the fourth quarter — including overtime, then the Giants have enough to win a second Super Bowl in three years. The reinforcements may have arrived, and the Giants are exceptionally well-coached by Tom Coughlin.
When you criticize Coughlin as if he’s never won before, when you simply laugh and ridicule him, as the local media back in New York usually does — and he amazingly shuts up the critics by leading the Giants to the Super Bowl for a second time in the last five seasons — the feeling is that he’s off the hot seat. We all know it. Winning cures everything, and with that said, he salvaged his coaching job for next season, no doubt.
There may be a time when the Giants get rid of Coughlin, but now is not the time. Ask Giants’ owner John Mara, who is supporting and giving much credit to the much-scrutinized coach, appreciative of him bringing the team together through adversity and after a slow start.
“I give a lot of credit to Tom Coughlin pulling this team together and getting this team on this kind of run,” Mara said. “Hopefully our fans in the New York/New Jersey area will start to appreciate him a little more.”
I’m sure he’s a more likable guy by Giants fans.
As great expectations just rose, as often as it does whenever the Giants play on a national stage, Coughlin, 65, is signed through next season and will likely earn his coaching job for many years to come with a contract extension in the offseason. The Coughlin critics dislike him, for whatever reason. He’s not consistent, he’s not too smart and he makes dumb decisions. Well, not this time. Instead he worked harder and was determined, as were his players. It definitely convinced the bashers that he’s got what it takes to lead the Giants to a championship again. It’s enough to hush non-believers for which he’s one hell of a coach. And better yet, his players are talented and dominant on both sides of the ball.
“It’s just been a tremendous effort by all of us, man,” Cruz said. “We understand that any one of us can get hot at any moment. As long as we’re all on the same page and just playing together, man, we’ve got a great group of guys.”
This time, after a sentimental ending to another remarkable run by the Giants, the Niners allowed a substantial opportunity to slip away. Humiliated and distraught, Kyle Williams, 49ers backup punt returner, slowly walked down the tunnel, dropping his head somberly and reflected back on the costly mistakes he made in a pivotal title game. As that was happening, Manning and Tynes were mobbed in a celebration by their thrilled teammates.
This one will hurt for a while for the 49ers, but more notably it will haunt Williams, who blundered on returns twice Sunday night. In overtime, he fielded a punt at the 49ers’ 19, and then fumbled it when he was hit by Giants linebacker Jacquian Williams. It was recovered by the Giants at the 24, and set up the 31-yard field goal that decided the game. The really super thing here is that Eli earned his right to play in his big brother’s house, surviving a ferocious 49ers’ run-stopping, rush-passing defense.
Yes, the house that Peyton built. The hidden truth is that he is an elite quarterback, delivering on the highlight play, which was a 17-yard touchdown pass to Mario Manningham on a third-and-15 in the final quarter.
So now again, the rematch is renewed and the Giants have a date with the New England Patriots on Feb. 5, two weeks from now, bringing back memories of David Tyree hauling in one of the most sensational catches in Super Bowl history.
History does repeat itself, after all.
Deja Blue, right?