The New York Giants (3-2) return to the scene Sunday of one of their great playoff wins as they visit San Francisco (4-1) to play what should be a very motivated Niners’ squad.
“Yeah, there’s no doubt that this should be a circled game for them on their calendar,” said linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka, according to a report on the team’s website.
Last season was San Francisco’s best since 1997—when Steve Young was still at quarterback—as the Niners compiled a 13-3 record and were undoubtedly thinking they would play Green Bay in the NFC title game. Instead the Giants—who went 9-7 in the regular season—rolled into town and beat them 20–17 in overtime. Key to their win was a 17-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Mario Manningham—on third and 15—that put the Giants up 17–14 late in the contest.
“I drew it up on the sideline,” said offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. “Great throw, great catch. It worked out, but the second half was a struggle because they did a great job defensively. It was important that we get a big play somewhere.”
Manningham now plays for the Niners, as does former Giant running back Brandon Jacobs. Undoubtedly both are sharing what they know about the Giants’ offense with their coaches and teammates.
“You certainly wish it didn’t happen, but many of the things we do are predicated on what you do defensively,” said Gilbride. “It still comes down to are you good enough to beat a defender and are you good enough up front to provide sufficient time for the quarterback to make those decisions, to sit and see who’s open.”
Manning, who certainly has had time to throw this year, will need to have injured lineman (knee) David Diehl in the lineup to continue that. San Francisco’s vaunted pass-rush sacked Manning six times in last year’s NFC title tilt.
“We’ve got to get him ready to be able to play,” said head coach Tom Coughlin, who seemed to think Diehl was close to being ready.
Also questionable for the game is wideout Hakeem Nicks, who is second on the team in receiving yards with 237. Nicks has been plagued all season with a foot injury and has had little time to practice. “He’s in every meeting. He listens to every comment made about the other receivers, guys at his position. He studies the tape. He’s done all of those things,” said Coughlin.
What Nicks sees on tape of San Francisco he won’t like. San Francisco demolished Buffalo (45–3) and the Jets (34–0) in consecutive weeks after a shocking loss to Minnesota in Week 3. Before the Vikings, the 49ers took care of the NFC-favorite Packers, 30–22, and the up-and-coming Lions 27–19.
One key to the Giants’ success will be how good their own pass rush is. Defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck, and Osi Umenyiora have combined for just 3.5 sacks thus far this season as the Giants are 24th in the NFL in yards allowed per game. Last season the same trio combined for 30.5 sacks.
“There’s nothing really new or different (about how) they’ve been used,” said Couglin regarding his defensive ends.
Maybe Coughlin should use them differently to get something going. The Giants allowed 34 against the 1-3 Buccaneers in Week 2 and 27 points last week by the winless Browns. San Francisco has given up a total of 27 points in their last three games.
“It’s a new year. It’s a new time,” said Coughlin regarding the matchup.
It certainly is. Prediction: Giants get beat on both sides of the ball and lose 34–17.