NFC Championship Live Blog: 49ers vs. Giants

SAN FRANCISCO — This is the live blog for the NFC championship game at Candlestick park between the Niners and the New York Giants. I’ll be updating this frequently from the press box.

Since I’m sure all of you are watching or listening to the game, I won’t give play-by-play descriptions of action. Instead, I’ll give my feelings and analysis.

2:10 Ted Ginn Jr. (knee) is inactive today. So is Scott Tolzien, Shawntae Spencer, Moran Norris, Daniel Kilgore, Mike Person and Ian Williams.

That means Delanie Walker is active. He’s on the field warming up right now, so it looks as though he will play.

3:10 As soon as New England beat Baltimore, two Patriots scouts sat down right next to me. If the Ravens had won, I would have been joined by Baltimore scouts in the press box.

3:14 I’ve got to believe Jim Harbaugh is more happy than sad over that Ravens loss. Now his brother John can help him gameplan for the Patriots.

3:38 The Giants win the toss and choose to defer. The Niners will receive the ball first for a change.

3:40 Kendall Hunter returns a short kickoff to the SF 23.

3:41 The first two plays go to Frank Gore – first a run up the middle and then a swing pass out of the backfield for a first down. That’s how I thought the Niners would come out.

3:43 Mike Iupati’s right ankle just got rolled up on by a Giant. He’s clearly in pain. Chilo Rachal replaces him in the lineup of now. This is a big blow of the Niners early in the game – they’re a much shakier unit with Rachal in the game.

3:44 Snyder moves to left guard and Rachal goes to right guard.

3:46 On third and four the Giants rush their front four, Alex Smith has time to throw but he can’t find anything downfield. He checks down to Gore but throws it incomplete behind him. Andy Lee punts, and Chris Culliver makes the tackle at the NY 16.

3:48 Eli Manning goes for the long throw on second and ten to Travis Beckum. Carlos Rogers catches him from behind and breaks the pass up. Nice recovery by Rogers.

3:50 Manning hits a tightly covered Cruz for 12 on third and ten. Eli Manning may be the best quarterback in the NFL on third and long.

3:51 The Giants foolishly try running on first and second down. Third and eight.

3:52 Manning hits Nicks on the right sideline for ten yards and a first down. Cruz opened that pass up by streaking deep.

3:54 Bradshaw tries running on second and ten, picks up two. Here comes another third and eight. Niners need to get in Manning’s face here.

3:54 Ray McDonald strips the ball from Manning’s hand but right tackle McKenzie recovers. The Giants punt, and Kyle Williams returns it nine yards to the SF 27.

3:56 Mike Iupati is back on the field at left tackle.

3:57 Alex Smith gets his first pass of the game knocked down.

3:58 But then he makes up for it, of course. He comes right back and throws a perfect strike to Vernon Davis on the right sideline for a 73-yard touchdown pass. Davis beat Antrel Rolle on the play. And we thought the Giants were going to neutralize on Davis. 7-0 Niners.

4:04 It’s Tony Montana time.

4:05 Colin Jones makes the tackle on the kickoff at the NY 31.

4:08 Nicks makes a diving catch in front of Culliver for a 7 yard gain on third and three.

4:09 Bradshaw takes a draw around the left tackle on second and five for a seven yard gain. The Giants are in Niners territory.

4:10 Hakeem Nicks just went to the locker room. He appeared to hurt his shoulder on his diving catch.

4:11 Third and one at the SF 34. The Giants call sprint right option and Eli throws the ball away. They’re going to go for it on fourth down.

4:11 Jacobs runs up the middle and he appears to be half a football short.

4:12 He was short, indeed. Giants turn the ball over on downs. Niners ball at their 34.

4:14 Kyle Williams drops the pitch on the reverse but recovers the ball. Second and twenty. That’s a drive killer.

4:15 Gore gains six yards up the middle. Third and fourteen. Iupati’s hurt again – maybe he never stopped being unhurt.

4:16 Smith evades Osi in the pocket and throws deep for Kyle Williams, but the pass is short and almost picked by Ross. Lee punts. Giants ball at their 31. Not a great punt – just 39 yards.

4:17 Mike Iupati is walking off the field to the locker room under his own power.

4:18 Nicks is back, and on first down Manning throws over his head.

4:19 Jacobs up the middle for four. Now it’s third and six. It seems like the Niners have held the Giants to third and long for the whole first quarter.

Second Quarter

4:22 Manning hits a wide open Cruz for a 36 yard gain. Cruz beat Rogers on the play. Rogers acted like he expected help over the top from Whitner.

4:23 David Baas is injured on the play. He’s helped off the field.

4:24 Third and four. Guess what – Manning completes a short pass to Cruz for a first down. Ball at the SF 17.

4:25 Manning hits a wide open Nicks on a slant. Gain of nine.

4:26 Jacobs up the middle for two. First and goal at the SF 6.

4:27 On first down the Giants come out with three wide receivers and then call their first timeout of the half.

4:27 The Giants are 5-7 on third down so far. The Niners are 0-2.

4:30 Nicks drops a pass in the back of the end zone on first and goal. Rogers was close but he couldn’t make a play on the ball.

4:30 Manning completes a pass to an uncovered Bear Pascoe underneath for a touchdown. 7-7. Bowman acted like Whitner blew that assignment.

4:33 Williams returns the kickoff to the SF 22.

4:34 Smith play fakes, rolls out and throws 5 yards too deep for a wide open of Kyle Williams deep down the field.

4:35 It’s the option. Smith fakes to Hunter and runs right for eight. Good play.

4:36 Smith completes a pass to Williams, but Ross gets called for illegal hands to the face. Five-yard penalty. First down at the SF 35.

4:38 Gore up the middle for four and first down and eight on second. Roman needs to keep calling inside Gore runs – he’s averaging more than five yards per carry.

4:39 And then Vernon Davis gets called for a fifteen yard penalty. He needs to real himself in. Still, it’s first and ten back at the SF 32.

4:40 Gore up the middle for for seven. Roman’s calling a good game.

4:41 Gore around right tackle for nine yards and a first down. Ball at the SF 48.

4:42 Smith play fakes and throws a strike to Davis over the middle but he lets it go right through his hands.

4:42 Another option. This time Smith runs left and gains five. Third and five.

4:43 Smith steps up and scrambles for four yards before he’s tackled from behind by Pierre-Paul. Fourth and one and they’re going for it.

4:44 No they’re not actually. They take the delay of game. They were trying to draw the Giants offside. Not a bad call.

4:45 On the punt Will Blackmon calls for a fair catch and then takes off running with the ball. Five-yard penalty. Giants ball at the NY 19.

4:47 The Niners failed on that drive because they got greedy on first down when Smith threw to Davis. They were having success running and they went away from that.

4:48 Manning completes a 15-yard first-down pass to Cruz. Rogers slipped. Ball at the NY 40.

4:50 Third and two, Ray McDonald sacks Eli Manning with one hand. With three timeouts and the two minute warning the Niners can still afford to run the ball – and they should.

4:51 The Giants punt bounces out of bounds at the SF 16. 2:51 left in the first half.

4:54 Gore takes a pitch to the right and loses a yard.

4:57 Gore up the middle for two.

4:59 Smith steps up and scrambles for three. Giants call their final timeout of the first half.

5:00 Blackmon returns Lee’s punt to the NY 36. 1:36 left in the first half.

5:01 On second and ten Manning has all the time in the world to throw so he completes a 15-yard pass to Cruz.

5:02 Second and ten again, Manning hits Cruz for a first down again. This time for 11 yards.

5:03 Second and ten one more time, Manning his Cruz one more time, this time for 17 yards. Good coverage by Rogers, but a great throw and catch. Ball on the SF 21. 20 seconds left.

5:04 Delay of game on the Giants. Second and fifteen.

5:05 And Manning hits Cruz again. He’s good. Gain of 13.

5:06 Tynes makes the 31-yard field goal. 10-7 Giants with two seconds left in the half.

5:06 This all happened because the Niners called a pitch sweep to Gore on first down. He’s not quick enough for that play – he’s failed at it all year long. The Niners got too cute and it cost them three points.

Halftime

5:19 To recap – the Niners were driving easily in the second quarter by handing the ball off to Gore so he could run up the middle. Then, on one first down they got greedy, play faked and took a shot to Vernon Davis. He was open and the pass was accurate, so it’s hard to say it was a bad play call, but Davis dropped it. The fact that it was a pass made the play a risk they didn’t really need to take – Gore was ripping off seven yards every run. Now they’re losing and the Giants get the ball first in the second half, and they may not have as good of an opportunity to run Gore up the middle anymore. This falls on Roman and Harbaugh.

Third quarter

5:21 The Niners special teamers are dancing.

5:22 Touchback Akers,

5:24 On third and one the Giants come out with three wide receivers. Manning throws a swing pass to Bradshaw, but the running back alligator arms it. Incomplete. Giants punt. Williams almost drops it – he makes a diving catch. That was almost as disaster for the Niners.

5:28 Greg Roman calls a pass on first down and Alex Smith takes a sack. Loss of seven. That’s another drive killer.

5:29 Smith hits Gore out of the backfield for a gain of three. Third and fourteen.

5:29 And Joe Staley false starts. Third and 19. The Niners’ offense – players and coaches – are unraveling.

5:31 And they get bailed out. Illegal contact on Ross. Five-yard penalty and an automatic first down.

5:32 And then Greg Roman calls a brilliant play we haven’t seen before – fly sweep to Kendall Hunter, but he cuts back to the right and gains 14 yards.

5:33 Gore up the middle for four. Another good Roman play call. He’s stepping up.

5:33 The Giants put ten defenders in the box. Smith play fakes and throws incomplete at Davis’ feet. Third and six.

5:34 Smith rolls left and throws to Walker, but the pass is batted down. Time for another Lee punt.

5:35 The Giants run into the kicker and the refs throw a flag. They call it running into the kicker. It’s just a five yard penalty so the Niners decline it. Giants ball at their 10 yard line.

5:38 Cruz starts the drive by catching two passes for 17 yards in front of Culliver.

5:39 And then the Giants take him out of the game and run Jacobs up the middle for two yards. Inexplicable.

5:40 Third and five. Tarell Brown blitzes and Manning has to throw the ball out of bounds. Finally the Niners blitz and get pressure. Good adjustment by Fangio.

5:41 Kyle Williams returns the punt 25 yards to the SF 47 yard line before slipping and falling. He could have scored a touchdown if he had stayed on his feet.

5:42 Alex Smith still has completed just three passes. He’s 3-10, but his QB rating is a surprising 94.6.

5:43 Gore up the middle for two. The Giants stacked the box on that one.

5:44 Smith play fakes to Gore and then completes a pass to him in the flat. He was wide open and he gained 24 yards. Great play.

5:45 Touchdown. Smith play fakes again and hits Davis in the end zone for a 28-yard score. The Giants were back to stacking the box with ten defenders. You can’t run into that. Roman made the right call, and good for him. 14-10 with 5:18 left in the third quarter.

5:48 Touchback Akers.

5:50 Vernon Davis beat a corner on that play. He’s by far the Niners best WR.

5:51 Nicks catches a 15-yard pass on first down. No pressure on Manning.

5:52 Third and seven at the NY 38, and Ray McDonald sacks him again. That’s 2.5 sacks fort McDonald so far. Bowman has the other half of a sack.

5:54 The Giants punt, and the Niners get the ball at their 22.

5:54 DeMarcus Dobbs comes in the game as an eligible receiver. The Niners fake a reverse and Gore runs up the middle for four. Good play.

5:55 Smith telegraphs his pass to Gore in the backfield and Pierre-Paul knocks the pass down at the line of scrimmage. That’s two for Smith. He’s good for three a game. Third and seven.

5:56 Smith scrambles and checks down to Gore who picks up only four. Fourth and three.

5:57 Bowman tackles Blackmon at the NY 27. 1:55 left in third quarter.

5:58 Manning play fakes and rolls left but finds no one so he throws it away. Third and five at the NY 32.

5:59 Manning throws it up, Brown and Goldson go for the pick and Goldson blasts Brown. The pass falls incomplete, but Brown isn’t moving.

6:04 He stands. Two Niners trainers help him off the field. Pray for Tarell Brown.

6:04 Kyle Williams calls for a fair catch at the SF 12 before a Giant was within 20 yards of him. The Niners are missing Ginn in the return game – Williams looks like a nervous rookie.

6:05 Gore runs through a huge hole on the left side of the O-line for 11 yards on first down.

6:06 Smith completes a quick pass to Delanie Walker for seven yards. And Canty gets called for a 15-yard penalty. First and ten at the SF 45.

Fourth Quarter

6:10 Gore runs off right tackle, escapes a tackle and picks up six yards.

6:11 Justin Smith is eligible. Dixon runs behind J. Smith for a three yard gain. If he hadn’t tripped he would have picked up the first down.

6:12 Dixon up the middle for no gain. Fourth and one at the NY 46, and Lee is in to punt. He punts another short one which Blackmon fair catches at the NY 20.

6:15 Screen to Bradshaw on first down. No gain.

6:16 Aldon Smith gets a monster jump on the snap and sacks Manning for a loss of five. It almost looked like he was offside. Third and 15.

6:17 Manning fires a split second before he’s hit by Aldon Smith again. The pass is low and incomplete. The Giants have to punt again. The pass rush comes for the Niners in the fourth quarter.

6:18 Williams lets the punt bounce and it clearly hit his knee on the replay. The Refs don’t call it Giants ball, but New York is challenging. This is a challenge the Giants will win. They’ll have the ball at the SF 29 yard line. Williams should have been replaced as the punt returner in the third quarter with Reggie Smith or Chris Culliver, or anyone, really.

6:23 Giants ball at the 29. Kyle Williams is beside himself on the sideline.

6:25 On second and seven Justin Smith plants Manning as he throws. Third and seven at the NY 26.

6:25 The Niners bring Brock on a blitz, he doesn’t get there and Manning completes a pass to the vacated Nicks. Gain of 14 and a first down at the NY 12.

6:26 Bradshaw gains six up the middle but Baas was holding. First and 20 at the SF 22.

6:27 Manning throws high and incomplete to Nicks over the middle. Goldson helped knock the pass away. Second and 20.

6:28 Manning complete to Bradshaw in the right flat for five yards. Third and 15.

6:28 Manning hits Manningham in the end zone for a touchdown. He beat Brock on the play. No surprise – the Giants go after the young cornerback for the big play. 17-14 Giants with 8:34 left in the game.

6:31 Kyle Williams is back to receive the kickoff still, along with Kendall Hunter.

6:32 Semi-redemption: Williams returns the kickoff 40 yards to the SF 45.

6:34 Smith overthrows Walker on a wheel route, but the refs call a five-yard illegal hands to the face penalty on New York. First and ten at midfield.

6:35 Beautiful play – Smith steps up in the pocket and scrambles for 17 yards. He’s good at that.

6:36 Hunter takes a pitch right but immediately cuts back left and gains 18. He’s good at the cut back. Great calls on this drive so far.

6:37 Smith completes a short pass over the middle in traffic to Gore for five yards. Second and five at the NY 10.

6:38 Smith fakes a handoff, Tuck blows it up and Smith throws it away. Third and five. A touchdown is mandatory here.

6:38 Smith throws a high pass to Crabtree on the right sideline for a gain of three. Akers comes on the field to attempt a 25 yard field goal.

6:39 He makes it. 17-17 Giants with 5:39 left in the fourth quarter. The Niners moved the ball effortlessly on that drive, but they couldn’t score in the red zone. I guess they can’t run Vernon Post every time down there.

6:41 Akers boots the kickoff out of the back of the end zone.

6:42 The Niners are 0-9 on third down.

6:42 Manning overthrows an open Manningham down the right sideline. Third and nine at the NY 21.

6:43 Manning checks down to Beckum and Willis blasts him right away. The Giants punt of bounds and the refs spot the ball at the SF 35. Terrible punt for a few reasons – it was short, and it was out of bounds. The Giants had to make Kyle Williams catch another one.

6:45 On first down Smith play fakes and has all the time he’d ever need but he still throws it out of bounds. I do not understand that one.

6:45 Gore up the middle for three. Third and seven. Remember, the Niners are 0-9 on third down so far.

6:46 Now they’re 0-10. Smith gets sacked by three guys and loses ten yards.

6:48 Lee punts it 55 yards. Giants ball at their 26. 3:04 left in the fourth quarter.

6:48 Willis blitzes and sacks Manning for a loss of 11 on first down. One of the biggest plays of the game for the Niners. Second and 21.

6:50 After a six-yard gain, Goldson forces Bradshaw to fumble, but his forward progress had already been stopped. That looked like an accurate call to me. Third and fifteen.

6:53 Whitner blitzes and gets pressure. Manning throws up a pray to Cruz 40 yards down the middle of the field but the pass is just a few inches too deep. The Giants punt and Kyle Williams fair catches it at the SF 29. 1:47 left in the fourth quarter. I still expect the Niners to win.

6:55 Smith escapes a sack and throws the ball away. That was the best throwaway of his career. Taking a sack there was not an option.

6:55 Smith rolls right and fires a pass at a wide open Crabtree’s feet. That’s the old Alex. The Niners need the new Alex. Third and ten.

6:56 Smith airmails Walker down the middle of the field. Awful throw. Niners are now 0-11 on third down. Lee punts. Giants ball at their 18 with 1:18 left in the fourth quarter.

6:57 Cruz slips and Manning’s pass falls incomplete. Second and ten.

6:58 Manning slides left and makes an unbelievable pass to Bradshaw deep down the left sideline for 30. First and ten at the NY 48. 1:05 left.

6:59 Bradshaw off right tackle for two. Second and eight.

7:00 Manning completes another pass to Bradshaw. Gain of four. Third and three at the SF 46 with 32 seconds left in the fourth.

7:01 Cruz almost makes a David-Tyree magic catch over the middle of the field but he drops it. Fourth and three, and they punt.

7:01 But first, delay of game on the Giants. Fourth and eight with 27 seconds left.

7:02 Williams returns the punt to the SF 39. 19 seconds left to gain 30 yards to get into field goal range.

7:04 Smith completes a three yard pass to Gore who’s tackled in bounds. The Niners call a timeout. Terrible situational football there.

7:05 Now Smith takes a sack and the Niners use another timeout. Situational football is supposed to be Smith’s strength but he’s not executing well down the stretch.

7:06 Smith completes a long pass to Walker that doesn’t end up in a touchdown. The Niners go 1-12 on third down in regulation.

Overtime

I’m going down the field. Back at you later.

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