Giants edge 49ers in OT, to face Pats in Super Bowl

New York Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes (9) and punter Steve Weatherford (5) celebrate after Tynes kicked the game winning field goal during overtime of the NFC Championship NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012, in San Francisco. The Giants won 20-17 to advance to Super Bowl XLVI.
Marcio Jose Sanchez | AP
New York Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes (9) and punter Steve Weatherford (5) celebrate after Tynes kicked the game winning field goal during overtime of the NFC Championship NFL football game Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012, in San Francisco. The Giants won 20-17 to advance to Super Bowl XLVI.
Posted Jan. 22, 2012, at 11:31 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 23, 2012, at 12:31 a.m.

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 one 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 on 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 3½-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 hand, er, foot in getting the Giants to that one, too, kicking the game-winning field goal in overtime at Green Bay.

Devin Thomas put the Giants in position by recovering his second fumble 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 yards and two touchdowns in his record fifth road playoff win, New York’s fifth in a row overall and fifth out of six.

A 12-point underdog in the 2008 title game, the Giants battered Brady and got a late-minute TD pass from Manning to Plaxico Burress to win their third Super Bowl.

Five months after declaring he is in the same class as Tom Brady, Manning will get another chance to outdo Brady 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 a contender 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 in 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 between the 1981 and ’94 seasons with the winner going on to win the Super Bowl four times.

New England, which lost to New York 24-20 in early November, opens as favorite against the Giants. The Patriots have won 10 straight, with their last loss being to the Giants.

“We know they’re a great team,” Manning said. “We played them already this year. They’ve been playing great football recently. Celebrate tonight, have fun, then start getting prepared and go to Indy and play our best football.”

It’s familiar territory for Tom Brady and the Patriots (15-3), who are playing in the Super Bowl for the fifth time in 11 years.

“Being in this situation is a great moment,” Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. “You have to cherish this moment.”

It’s the Patriots’ first appearance since Manning and the Giants (12-7) upset New England’s pursuit of perfection in 2008. Back then, New England was a 12-point favorite, but New York’s defense battered Brady, and Manning connected with Plaxico Burress on a late touchdown to win the Giants’ third Super Bowl.

That TD came, of course, a few moments after one of the biggest plays in playoff history: Manning escaped the grasp of a few Patriots defenders and found David Tyree, who put New York in scoring position by pinning the football against his helmet for a jaw-dropping catch.

New England hopes to avoid that sort of drama this time around. Unless it goes in the Patriots’ favor, as it did in the AFC title game.

“They’re an amazing team,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. “They’re a great brotherhood; they’re a family.”

The Giants appeared on the verge of collapsing with Tom Coughlin’s job status in jeopardy just a month ago, when they fell to 7-7 with an embarrassing loss to the Washington Redskins on Dec. 19.

“We’ve been here before,” linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said at the time, “and we’ll get back.”

Boy, was he right.

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