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SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Giants fans get their wish . . . maybe


SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 14: Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers looks to pass from the pocket in the fourth quarter of the NFC Divisional playoff game against the New Orleans Saints at Candlestick Park on January 14, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images) Photo Credit: Getty/Jed Jacobsohn

Don't be bashful, Giants Nation. You know it, I know it and the 49ers know it, so let's handle this like adults and come right out and say it.

From Miller Place to Milwaukee, from Greenport to Green Bay, every Giants fan who had a ticket to Sunday's game or who planned to watch it on TV had an obvious rooting interest Saturday when the 49ers hosted the Saints.

A return trip to New Orleans for a potential NFC Championship Game?

Um, no thank you, not after the 49-24 beating the Saints administered when the Giants visited Nov. 28, one of several such Superdome romps by Drew Brees and Co.

A return to San Francisco, site of a 27-20 loss Nov. 13 in which the Giants' late rally stalled at the 49ers' 10?

Much better, right?

So it seemed to make perfect sense to celebrate early when the 49ers survived a late-game shootout in a 36-32 victory, then to celebrate further when the Giants did their part Sunday by upsetting the Packers, 37-20.

At least one Giant copped to thinking along those lines Monday. Refreshingly honest receiver Victor Cruz considered how those two regular-season games went and said this:

"It definitely works out in our favor a little bit that we're able to get San Francisco as opposed to New Orleans, just because of how we feel about them, and we understand that we have a good chance of winning that game.''

While we wait for coach Jim Harbaugh to print out and post that line in the 49ers' locker room, let us refer to one of life's most enduring lessons:

Be careful what you wish for, Giants fans, because the 49ers are for real, a mirror image of the team they will face for a Super Bowl berth.

For most of the season, the Giants' offense carried its suspect defense. No longer. And for most of the season, the 49ers' defense carried its suspect offense. No longer.

Saturday's duel with Brees was a defining moment for 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, who now must be taken seriously along with the team's running game and defense.

Safety Antrel Rolle, who used to face Smith twice yearly in the NFC West, had a respectful take typical of most Giants: "I think he's a great quarterback and I think he's going to continue to get better.''

OK, so which team was Rolle rooting for Saturday?

"I root for the Giants,'' he said. "It doesn't matter who we play. At this point in time, the way we're playing ball, we go out there and take care of things throughout the week. It doesn't matter who you put in front of us. It really doesn't matter. You can put an all-star team in front of us.''

(Tangential great line from Rolle about playing on the road: "When you're home, you want to bring them to their feet. When you're away, you want to bring them to their knees.'')

Linebacker Michael Boley said the 49ers' victory did not surprise him, in part because of the risk-taking nature of the Saints' defense. "It's kind of crash and burn when you pressure like that,'' he said. "We play different.''

The Giants arrived in Appleton, Wis., on Saturday in time to watch much of the 49ers-Saints game, but many missed its frantic final minutes.

Receiver Hakeem Nicks said he turned off the television when Smith ran for a go-ahead score with 2:11 left. There were two more touchdowns after that.

"It was a good game,'' Rolle said of the 49ers' achievement. "They weren't playing the Giants, but it was a good game.''

And, in theory, it was a good result for the Giants. But we shall see. In the meantime, just in case the Giants and their fans need a little perspective, consider this:

Guess which team 49ers fans surely were rooting for Sunday afternoon?

New York Sports