A fumbled punt return gave the New York Giants the ball back nearly 10 minutes into overtime against the San Francisco 49ers, and the Giants capitalized, making a 31-yard field goal to win the game, and the right to take on New England in the Super Bowl.
David Akers kicked a 25-yard field goal with 5:39 to play in regulation for San Francisco, and the NFC championship game between the New York Giants and 49ers went to overtime tied 17-17 on Sunday.
It was the third NFC title game in five years to go to OT. The Giants beat Green Bay 23-20 four years ago on the way to the Super Bowl title.
Akers’ kick came after the 49ers were done in by a rare turnover. After tying an NFL record with just 10 giveaways in the regular season, the 49ers committed their only one in this game at a most inopportune time.
With San Francisco leading 14-10 early in the fourth quarter and about to take over possession, a bouncing punt by Steve Weatherford glanced off returner Kyle Williams’ right knee and was recovered by New York’s Devin Thomas at the San Francisco 29. The play was originally not ruled a fumble but was overturned by instant replay.
Six plays later, Eli Manning threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Mario Manningham, who beat backup cornerback Tramaine Brock on the third-and-15 play. Brock was playing in place of starter Tarell Brown, who left late in the third quarter after a violent collision with teammate Dashon Goldson.
Williams helped atone for his miscue when he returned the kickoff 40 yards. Kendall Hunter’s 18-yard run and a 17-yard keeper by Alex Smith set up Akers’ kick.
Neither team threatened to score after that in regulation, sending the game to overtime.
Smith had thrown two touchdown passes to Vernon Davis, and Manning and Bear Pascoe connected on a score for the Giants. Manning threw for 265 yards, including 10 passes for 142 yards to Victor Cruz.
A 36-yarder to Cruz set up Pascoe’s touchdown, and Cruz had four catches for 56 yards on a field goal drive late in the first half.
Smith completed just one pass to a wide receiver in regulation – a 3-yarder to Michael Crabtree. But the two big plays to Davis did enough damage on a wet evening in San Francisco.
On the second play of San Francisco’s second drive, Davis beat safety Antrel Rolle and got loose down the sideline. He pulled down the pass from Smith and raced into the end zone. He then jumped up onto a camera stage and posed, drawing a penalty for excessive celebration – his first of two personal fouls on the day.
Davis appeared as if he might have stepped on the sideline, but after a review, referee Ed Hochuli said there was not indisputable evidence and ruled that the touchdown would stand. Davis added a 28-yard TD catch in the third quarter.
Davis now has four touchdowns in his first two career playoff games, joining Jerry Rice as the only Niners with consecutive two-touchdown receiving games in the postseason.
Davis set a playoff record for tight ends with 180 yards receiving and the two touchdowns, including the game-winner with 9 seconds remaining, in a 36-32 victory over New Orleans last week.
The Niners were looking to make it to the Super Bowl for the first time in 17 seasons. Under rookie coach Jim Harbaugh, they won the NFC West with a 13-3 regular-season record to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
The Giants won their final two regular-season games to clinch the NFC East, then knocked off Atlanta at home and won at top-seeded Green Bay last week to make it to the conference title game.
The day got off to a bad start for the Harbaugh family, who had been hoping for a “Superbaugh” in two weeks in Indianapolis. John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens lost the AFC championship game 23-20 to the New England Patriots.