Breaking down the game

Analyzing and categorizing the 49ers' dramatic and improbable 39-38 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday in an NFC wild-card game:


Jeff Garcia climbed one more rung on the ladder to greatness by sparking San Francisco's comeback. The Niners never could have done it without him. He did it all in those final minutes - evading pressure, making plays with his arm and his feet and completing 19 of 28 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns after the Niners fell 24 points behind. He finished 27 of 44 for 331 yards and three touchdowns passing. He also completed two important two-point conversions and led the Niners with 60 yards rushing, including a 14-yard dash for a touchdown that brought San Francisco within 38-30 early in the fourth quarter, a play that started people believing this comeback could actually happen. Bottom line: One Giant leap for the legend of Jeff Garcia.


Not a whole lot to talk about, because the Niners had to abandon the run after falling so far behind. But there wasn't much going on when San Francisco did try to run in the early going as Garrison Hearst, Kevan Barlow and Fred Beasley combined for just 30 yards rushing on 13 carries. The backs didn't get much involved in the passing game, either, with Beasley and Hearst combining for just three receptions for 11 yards. Bottom line: Flow of game dictated a silent day from usually productive unit.


These guys got it done repeatedly when every play counted for the Niners to close the huge gap on the scoreboard. Terrell Owens was spectacular on his tackle-breaking 76-yard touchdown reception on San Francisco's first play from scrimmage, but the plays he made later in the game were much more important. He finished with two touchdowns and two two-point conversion catches among his game-high nine catches for 177 yards. He also completed a 25-yard pass. Streets caught that one, and he finished with five catches for 58 yards, including the game-winning score. Cedrick Wilson had an 18-yard catch, J.J. Stokes contributed two receptions, and tight end Eric Johnson also played a huge factor with eight receptions for 78 yards. Bottom line: A tremendous, star-crossed performance.


Garcia passed 44 times. He wasn't sacked once. The Giants knew the 49ers had to pass, but they couldn't get to Garcia as the line also played a huge role in the comeback. These guys sucked it up after both left tackle Derrick Deese and right guard Ron Stone had to leave the game with injuries. Their replacements, Matt Willig and rookie Kyle Kosier, did just fine. Bottom line: Effort and contribution of this unit can't be overlooked.



There was nothing to brag about here through three quarters as the New York offense moved at will with this unit not doing much about it. But there were some plays made here late in the game to stop the Giants and allow the offense more time to rally. John Engelberger was heard from with a sack, but the pass rush otherwise didn't get much heat on New York quarterback Kerry Collins. Bottom line: Unit can't take much credit in this one.


Julian Peterson was spectacular in the early going, making an interception, almost getting another, and flying around the field to make plays, including a sack. He also was beaten on a few pass plays, but his determination and intensity helped settle the defense and get the Niners back in the game. He had nine tackles and also knocked down two passes. Derek Smith had a game-high 10 tackles and also made a lot of plays. Jeff Ulbrich made an athletic play to tip a pass that was intercepted by Peterson, and he also forced a fumble. Bottom line: Unit was saving grace for the defense.


Ahmed Plummer, limited by a lingering groin injury, had a rough day, getting beat for three touchdown passes and several other receptions by Amani Toomer. He finished with seven tackles, but a lot of those came after passes were caught in front of him. Mike Rumph, forced into a starting role with Jason Webster injured, was very solid and had eight tackles. Tony Parrish had seven tackles and Zack Bronson had some nice hits among his six tackles before he was forced to leave with a sore foot. Bottom line: Allowed New York passing game to make plays all day, but was there when it counted.


Cedrick Wilson's muffed punt looked like it would be the play that killed the 49ers season. It totally turned the momentum toward the Giants, who scored the game's next 24 points. Punter Bill LaFleur, after a terrible game last week, responded this time with a 46.7 average on his three punts. Vinny Sutherland did a nice job on returns after being signed by the Niners just three days before the game. Jeff Chandler, who turned his plant ankle in pre-game warm-ups, was very short on kickoffs, but he made a 25-yard field goal that was crucial to the win. The coverage units gave up some ground and didn't have their best day. Bottom line: Some good, some bad. The Niners survived the bad.


You've got to hand it to the Niners. They never quit. It's a difficult thing to keep a team in a game of this magnitude when it's getting blasted and trails by 24 points with less than 18 minutes remaining. The Niners smartly went to a no-huddle offense when all appeared lost, and it put the attack in rhythm and gave the team life. There also was some excellent blitz calls on defense in key fourth-quarter sequences. The coaches never gave up on this game or their team, and that ultimately was displayed on the scoreboard. Bottom line: The greatest comeback in 49ers playoff history and second-greatest in NFL history? That about says it all.


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