Mario Manningham, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz of the New...

Mario Manningham, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz of the New York Giants walk back to the sideline in the fourth quarter after Manningham scored a 17-yard touchdown. (Jan. 22, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

In Tom Coughlin's mind, Lawrence Tynes did not kick the winning field goal against the 49ers Sunday night. Oh, his 31-yarder certainly sailed through the uprights 7:54 into overtime. But those three points didn't win the NFC Championship Game. Rather, they sent the Giants to the Super Bowl.

It's a subtle difference, but a very real one. The conference championship games are that last big step before the Super Bowl, so it's more about the pot of gold than the rainbow when you finally do get there. The enormity of what is next dwarfs what has just happened.

"You don't stop and say to yourself: 'We won the game,' " Coughlin said Monday in a conference call. "You say: 'We're going to the Super Bowl!' "

They certainly are. It was a scenario and a mind-set that Coughlin already had implanted in his players. On Saturday night, in the final team meetings, he showed them tape of the winning (or is it Super Bowl-sending?) field goals by Matt Bahr in the NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park in January 1991 and the 47-yard kick by Tynes at Lambeau Field in January 2008. Those two field goals decided big games but sent the Giants on to an even bigger game.

"That was first and foremost on my mind," Coughlin said.

The flight home from San Francisco was intense, he said.

"The players were all excited and they continued to remain that way with their NFC Championship hats," he said.

"The noise level was very loud as we came onto the plane. It was a very excited group, it was a very happy group. The volume was really loud for quite some time, and after that, we settled in and tried to get some sleep. The players were very excited and complimentary of each other. There was a lot of high-fives and shaking of hands congratulating one another and looking each other in the eye."

Perhaps the biggest difference between Tynes' kick in Green Bay and the one in San Francisco was the confidence he and his teammates had. Four years ago, Tynes had missed two big kicks before running on the field -- before Coughlin called on him -- to score the winning points. This time it was just the opposite. Tynes was itching to take the field, but Coughlin ran a few more plays -- Ahmad Bradshaw gained 18 yards on three carries -- before sending in the field-goal unit. (Tynes said he was grateful for the extra yardage.)

"It was definitely different," Eli Manning said on his weekly 1050 ESPN radio spot. "The last time when we were in Green Bay, he had already missed some . . . I think I was more almost surprised when he made that one in Green Bay."

Not so much this time.

"[I] had great confidence he was going to make this field goal," Manning said. "It was kind of like, 'We're here, we've got to make this, he's going to do it.' It was just a sigh of relief that we won that game, he made that field goal, and we have another chance to accomplish our goal at the end of the season to be world champions."

Even Tynes noted that his kick in the mud after a low snap was not a destination but a layover.

"We got a trophy tonight," Tynes said after his kick, "but it's not the one we want."

That one will be handed out Feb. 5.

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