When looking back at the long and illustrious history of the New York Giants, several games stand out. There was, of course, The Greatest Game Ever Played, The Philadelphia Manslaughter, The Wellington Mara Memorial Game, all of their pre-AFL/NFL merger championships and their four Super Bowl victories, among many others.
Another game that belongs on that long list came in 2012 as the New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers battled it out in the NFC Championship Game with a trip to Super Bowl XLVI on the line.
The game began quietly enough, with the Giants and 49ers exchanging punts. However, midway through the first quarter, quarterback Alex Smith and tight end Vernon Davis got the ball rolling for San Francisco when they connected on a 73-yard catch and run for a score over Giants safety Antrel Rolle.
A cocky Davis climbed onto the FOX camera booth following the score, earning a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that initially appeared like it’d come back to bite the 49ers.
On the ensuing drive, the Giants drove to the 49ers’ 34-yard line, but Brandon Jacobs was stuffed on a 4th-and-1.
After the Giants defense forced a three-and-out, which was highlighted by a Kyle Williams fumble that was nearly recovered by Osi Umenyiora, Eli Manning & Co. got the ball back as the final seconds ticked down in the first quarter.
Victor Cruz, who entered into the game looking for redemption after being shut down by the 49ers earlier in the year, came alive on the drive, hauling in two key third down receptions for 42 yards. It culminated with a six-yard touchdown pass from Manning to tight end Bear Pascoe, tying the game at 7-7.
After exchanging another series of punts and some big hits, including an increasingly brutal beating of Eli Manning, the Giants managed to add three points just prior to halftime thanks to a 31-yard field goal courtesy of Lawrence Tynes.
Coming out to start the second half, both defenses clamped down and forced a series of punts. But it was again the 49ers’ combo of Alex Smith and Vernon Davis that broke the stalemate.
After a 24-yard punt return by Kyle Williams set San Francisco up with good field position, Smith connected with Davis on a 28-yard score that gave the 49ers a 14-10 lead.
The game would go into the fourth quarter with that score, but it didn’t last long.
With 11:17 remaining and backed up deep in their own territory, the Giants were forced to punt. The Steve Weatherford boot went 56 yards and appeared to be downed by Devin Thomas. However, upon review, it was determined that the ball had bounced off the leg of Kyle Williams and Thomas had a clear recovery.
The new life yielded positive results for the Giants, who then inched their way down the field, culminating with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Mario Manningham.
The 49ers answered on their next possession, tying the game at 17-17.
Again, the defenses would stiffen and the battle for a trip to the Super Bowl would be tense. The two sides would go back-and-forth for the remainder of the fourth quarter, with neither giving an inch.
Despite a last-ditch effort by Alex Smith and the 49ers offense, the game would go into overtime.
In overtime, the two sides would again exchange punts before the defining play of the game would ultimately decide it.
Facing a 4th-and-13 at their own 44-yard line, the Giants would send out Steve Weatherford in hopes of backing the 49ers up deep in their own territory. Again, Kyle Williams was back to field the punt, and just as he had begun to take off, linebacker Jacquian Williams stuck his hand in and knocked the ball loose. And for the second time, Devin Thomas was there to recover it.
Set up at the 49ers’ 24-yard line, the Giants would push their way down to the eight, take a delay of game penalty to center the ball and Lawrence Tynes, for the second time in four years, would kick a game-winning field goal in overtime to send the Giants to the Super Bowl to take on the New England Patriots.
For Eli Manning, it was arguably the best performance of his career when considering the beating he taken. It’s made all the more impressive years later as we learned Manning hadn’t practiced all week and played the game with a bad case of the flu.