NFL Network reliving historic 49ers thriller

For those who would like another look at one of the greatest comebacks in 49ers playoff history - or NFL playoff history, for that matter - the NFL Network is reliving it Thursday night when it airs the original network broadcast of the 2002 NFC Wild Card game between the Niners and New York Giants.

The network is broadcasting the game as part of its new series, NFL Classics. And to be sure, that's what the Jan. 5, 2003, clash between the 49ers and Giants turned out to be.

Fans will get a rare opportunity to relive the game as it aired on the FOX network, featuring the original broadcast team of announcers Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Cris Collinsworth.

The 49ers' amazing rally from a 38-14 deficit in the third quarter was the second-largest comeback in NFL postseason history. The rally was engineered by Niners quarterback Jeff Garcia, who directed San Francisco to 25 unanswered points in the game's final 18 minutes.

Only Buffalo's 32-point comeback in a 41-38 victory over Houston in 1993 was by a larger margin in the postseason.

The 49ers went 10-6 in 2002 to win their first NFC West championship since 1997, allowing them to host a game in the postseason for the first time since 1998. But they fell behind 28-14 at halftime as Giants receiver Amani Toomer tied a NFL postseason record with three touchdown receptions, beating Niners cornerback Ahmed Plummer on scoring receptions of 12, 8 and 24 yards.

The Giants quickly got an opportunity to add to their lead when 49ers coach Steve Mariucci decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 after the Niners drove to the New York 46-yard line on the first possession of the second half. Fullback Fred Beasley was stuffed for no gain, and the Giants needed only six plays to get in the end zone again, with Tiki Barber scoring from six yards out to make it 35-14 with just five minutes elapsed in the third quarter.

After a three-and-out by the Niners, the Giants quickly sailed down the field again, but tight end Jeremy Shockey - who'd worked his way open in the corner of the end zone - allowed a touchdown catch to slip of his hands after New York had reached the San Francisco 3-yard line. At the time, it didn't seem like any big deal - given New York's huge lead - and the Giants settled for a 21-yard field goal from Matt Bryant to make it 38-14.

But that proved to be a consequential sequence as the 49ers responded with an improbable flurry of offensive fireworks while also blanking a New York offense that had dominated the game's first 40 minutes.

The 49ers took control behind Garcia and receiver Terrell Owens, who began the comeback by catching a 26-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter, then following that with a two-point conversion reception to cut New York's lead to 38-22 entering the fourth period.

Owens made big catches on each of San Francisco's final four scoring drives and finished with nine receptions for 177 yards and two touchdowns, including a 76-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown to initiate the scoring in the first quarter.

Garcia - who passed for 331 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 60 yards and another TD - continued the comeback early in the fourth quarter with a 14-yard scramble into the end zone, which was followed by another Garcia-to-Owens two-point conversion that made it 38-30. The 49ers closed within 38-33 on a 25-yard field goal by rookie Jeff Chandler with 7:49 to play.

The Giants responded by driving well into San Francisco territory before Bryant set up for a 42-yard field-goal attempt with 3:01 remaining. But a poor snap by long-snapper Trey Junkin was mishandled by holder Matt Allen, thwarting the drive and setting the stage for the culmination of San Francisco's amazing comeback.

The 49ers drove 68 yards in nine plays with Garcia converting on two consecutive third downs. Tight end Eric Johnson caught a 25-yard pass to take San Francisco to the New York 25-yard line, and Garcia scrambled 12 yards before pushing the 49ers ahead with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Tai Streets with one minute to play.

Garcia's third consecutive try at a two-point conversion, however, fell incomplete. That gave the Giants yet another chance to pull out victory in the closing seconds, and quarterback Kerry Collins - who passed for 342 yards and four touchdowns - guided New York to the San Francisco 23, where Bryant set up for another field goal attempt that could win the game.

But on the final play, Junkin's snap again was off target, and in a madcap ending to a wild game, penalty flags flew all over the field as Allen picked up the errant snap and scrambled toward the sideline before heaving a pass toward the goal line that ultimately fell incomplete.

The Giants were penalized for having linemen downfield, but replays indicate the 49ers could have been penalized for interference - which would have set up the Giants for another, shorter field goal try - and that's a play to take a closer look at for fans who watch Thursday's replay broadcast of the thriller that highlighted San Francisco last trip to the playoffs.

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