In addition to being one of the greatest wins in Giants history, last night’s 20-17 overtime win over the San Francisco ’49ers was also one of the most improbable games in recent memory. Let’s look at some stats:
— The Giants had no running game at all and were outrushed by San Francisco 150 to 85 yards. That kind of rushing yardage ratio will lose you 3 out of 4 games in the NFL. You can’t win if you just run for 85 yards, can you?
— San Francisco converted just one time in 14 tries. (The Giants didn’t do so hot, either, converting just 7 of 21.)
— Except for 2 brilliantly executed drives, Eli Manning was thoroughly stymied all night by the ’49ers defense, which held him to 267 yards on 58 throws, allowing him to be sacked 6 times (the Giants had just 2 on SF QB Alex Smith) and recording 21 “hard hits” on him. How can you win when you can’t protect your quarterback better than that?
— Manning averaged just 4.6 yards per throw, his second worst average ever in the postseason. Smith averaged 6.8 yards a pop when he threw. In the regular season, the tema with 6.8 beats the team with 4.6 nearly 80% of the time.
— The 49ers made just one completion all night to a wide receiver, to Michael Crabtree, for 3 yards. How do you send a game into overtime when your wideouts have exactly 3 yards receiving in four quarters?
— Finally, the ’49ers, who had by consensus the best special teams in the NFC this season, lost the game on two field goals set up by fumbled punts. They had lost one fumbled punt all season.
How close was this game? You always hear commentators say “It came down to a matter of inches,” but in yesterday’s NFC championship game, it was more like it came down to an inch — the tip of the football that brushed against the sock of San Francisco punt returner Kyle Williams, the “fumble” which the Giants recovered at the Niners’ 28-yard line, setting up a cheap touchdown. Cheap or not, however, the Giants had to earn it. Eli drilled a clutch 17-yard TD pass to Mario Manningham on a clutch 3rd and 15 play. Anything less than 15 yards on that play and the Giants would have had to settle for a field goal and would have still been trailing 14-13.
Watch the “knee fumble” here, and for all you aspiring special teams coaches out there, always remember the way Bear Bryant taught them to play at Alabama: “If you’re not gonna catch the punt, get the hell away from it.”
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