Four years later, they did it again

Victor Cruz celebrates after the Giants' win over

Victor Cruz celebrates after the Giants' win over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship. (Jan. 22, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara)

SAN FRANCISCO

One last gut-wrenching win later, one more heart-stopping, game-winning field goal in overtime, and the Giants have achieved what once was considered impossible by all but the most wide-eyed optimists.

Lawrence Tynes' 31-yard field goal sailed through the uprights at Candlestick Park, and the Giants, after nearly collapsing in the second half of the season, somehow are back in the title game against the Patriots for a rematch of Super Bowl XLII.

A team that barely snuck into the playoffs with a late-season surge after a near-collapse now is on the verge of a fourth Super Bowl title, which would put them one title ahead of the Patriots team they're about to face in Indianapolis Feb. 5.

"It's scary, honestly," defensive end Osi Umenyiora said. "Hopefully things will play out the way they did in '07."

Told the Giants are four-point underdogs going into the game, he smiled. "As long as we're underdogs, it's good," he said, referring to the Giants' underdog status four years ago. "As long as everything happens the same way as '07, we're good to go."

The chance at another Super Bowl wasn't assured until the final tension-filled moments of overtime, as the Giants took advantage of a second special- teams blunder by punt returner Kyle Williams and won it on Tynes' field goal.

It gave a team that had lost four straight after a 6-2 getaway one last chance at redemption, and the Giants put a thrilling exclamation point on a playoff run that has been as exhilarating as it has been unexpected.

"It was a hard-fought game and I'm excited to have another chance to go to the Super Bowl and play New England," Eli Manning said. "Everybody knew we were going to get a break or something was going to happen. That was the mind-set."

How ridiculous is it that the Giants have gotten this far? Consider: If they beat the Patriots in Indianapolis, they will become the first team in NFL history to win a Super Bowl after going 9-7.

But if we've learned anything from watching Tom Coughlin's teams over the years, it's to never count them out. The last time they made a Super Bowl run, they did it in unlikely fashion as well, turning a 10-6 wild-card berth into a remarkable four-game run through the playoffs, capped by their 17-14 victory over the previously unbeaten Patriots in the Super Bowl.

This was, as Giants defensive tackle Chris Canty had advertised, a defensive battle of wills that limited both quarterbacks' effectiveness. Manning certainly was more active than Alex Smith, throwing 52 times in regulation for 299 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Smith's 73-yard TD pass to Vernon Davis, who starred in last week's upset win over the Saints at Candlestick Park, gave the 49ers an early lift. But the Giants' defense didn't falter much after that through the end of regulation, allowing 10 more points heading into overtime.

Williams, filling in for the injured Ted Ginn Jr., then blew it in the extra session when he fumbled on a punt return after the Giants' second possession. Jacquian Williams stripped the ball and Devin Thomas recovered at the 49ers' 24-yard line. Three runs by Ahmad Bradshaw got the Giants to the 6 before Manning took a knee in the middle of the field to set up Tynes' field-goal attempt.

And so, 21 years after Matt Bahr's 47-yard field goal sailed through the uprights with no time left in regulation to seal the Giants' 15-13 win over the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, Tynes' kick put this year's team in the Super Bowl again.

"We got a trophy," Tynes said, referring to the George Halas Trophy for the NFC championship, "but it's not the trophy we want."

The one they want? The one bearing Vince Lombardi's name.

At least one member of the losing team Sunday night is pulling for the Giants. As Manning crossed paths with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh when they were about to conduct postgame interviews, Harbaugh shook hands with the quarterback.

"Good game," Harbaugh said. "Go win it all."

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