published Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

Giants defeat 49ers 20-17 in NFC championship game

SAN FRANCISCO — The New York Giants have their own Super Bowl formula: in overtime and on the road.

And with Lawrence Tynes’ foot.

Eli Manning directed a short, final drive and Tynes kicked a game-winning 31-yard field goal in overtime, sending the Giants to the Super Bowl with a 20-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game Sunday.

In another tight one in this decades-old postseason rivalry, both defenses made key stops before New York capitalized on another costly mistake by San Francisco.

Manning and the Giants (12-7) will face the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl on Feb. 5 in Indianapolis as 3 1/2-point underdogs. The last time the teams met for the NFL title, 2008, the Giants ended the Patriots’ bid for a perfect season.

Tynes had a key role in getting the Giants to that one, too, kicking the winning field goal in overtime at Green Bay.

Sunday, Devin Thomas put the Giants in position with his second fumble recovery of the game after Jacquian Williams stripped the ball from fill-in return man Kyle Williams, who also fumbled earlier to set up a New York touchdown.

“It’s my second NFC championship game, my second game-winner,” Tynes said. “It’s amazing. I had dreams about this last night. It was from 42, not 31, but I was so nervous today before the game just anticipating this kind of game. I’m usually pretty cool, but there was something about tonight where I knew I was going to have to make a kick. Hats off to Eli, offense, defense. Great win.”

Manning went 32-of-58 for 316 passing yards and two touchdowns in his record fifth road playoff win, New York’s fifth in a row overall and fifth out of six.

As 12-point underdogs in the 2008 title game, the Giants battered Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and got a late-minute TD pass from Manning to Plaxico Burress for the franchise’s third Super Bowl win.

Five months after declaring he is in the same class as Brady, Manning will get another chance to outdo him on the NFL’s biggest stage. He outplayed Aaron Rodgers and the defending champion Packers last week, then fellow former No. 1 pick Alex Smith and upstart San Francisco the next.

Victor Cruz set the tone with eight of his 10 receptions in the first half and finished with 142 yards

“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.”

Vernon Davis caught touchdown passes of 73 and 28 yards and wound up with three catches for 112 yards for the NFC West champions (14-4), who went from 6-10 a year ago to contenders and ended an eight-year playoff drought.

He scored the game-winner from 14 yards out last week as the 49ers stunned Drew Brees and the favored Saints 36-32.

Thirty years after their dynasty began under the late Bill Walsh, another former Stanford coach — Jim Harbaugh — got the 49ers this far with his “Who’s got it better than us? No-body!” chant that caught on so well with the players and city.

“It will be a tough one. It will take a while to get over,” Harbaugh said.

The only other time these two franchises faced off for the conference championship the game finished in memorable fashion. On Jan. 20, 1991, Roger Craig fumbled with the 49ers leading 13-12 late in the fourth quarter and the Giants went on to win 15-13 to deny San Francisco a chance at a third straight Super Bowl title. New York then beat the Bills to capture its second Super Bowl.

These teams met six times in the playoffs from the 1981 through the ’94 seasons, with the winner going on to win the Super Bowl four times.

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