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49ers Fall 20-17 in Overtime Loss

Posted Jan 22, 2012

Win, lose or draw, Jim Harbaugh is consistent.

Harbaugh remained himself despite seeing two 49ers fumbles, the only turnovers of the day, play a part in a 20-17 overtime loss to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship game.

In a locker room full of emotionally drained players inside of rain-soaked Candlestick Park, ones who just competed for more than 60 minutes in their last game together as a team, Harbaugh called the group together for one last “Who’s got it better than us?” post-game chant.

The team has done it after every game in Harbaugh’s first season as head coach in the National Football League, one that saw the 49ers win 14 games, the NFC West title and was just a few plays from making the franchise’s sixth Super Bowl appearance.

“We did it after regular season losses also,” safety Donte Whitner said moments after his first playoff appearance, like many 49ers, had come to a startling conclusion. “Just keeping it consistent, win, lose or draw, we do the same thing.”

In what can only be described as a frustrating loss to the Giants, the 49ers played the type of game they’ve played all season.

Big passing plays to tight end Vernon Davis with gashing runs by Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore on offense, coupled with strong tackling on defense and special teams, seemed to equate to a 49ers win.

But two fumbled punts by second-year wideout Kyle Williams proved to be costly.

Filling in for inactive veteran Ted Ginn Jr., Williams lost his first when he tried to move away from the initial punt by Steve Weatherford in the fourth quarter. The 49ers had the ball initially, but replays showed the ball grazed off Williams’ right knee.

After a Giants challenge from coach Tom Coughlin, New York took a 17-14 lead off an Eli Manning 17-yard touchdown to Mario Manningham.

“We all know how committed he is, how much he wants to win, how big a part of the team he is. It’s not on him,” quarterback Alex Smith said of Williams’ miscues. “Those were two plays… you can’t put it on him.”

In fact, Williams’ first fumble wasn’t the only one that deserved a closer inspection in a tightly-contested game between teams that have combined to win eight World Championships.

After San Francisco tied the game at 17 with a 25-yard field goal from All-Pro kicker David Akers, the 49ers defense appeared to strip Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw on the following drive.

Officials, however, blew the play dead by ruling Bradshaw’s forward progress had stopped before he was stripped by linebacker NaVorro Bowman.

“The refs called what they called and it is what it is,” defensive captain Patrick Willis said after he recorded eight tackles and one of San Francisco’s six sacks. “The refs said his forward progress was stopped and therefore it was not a fumble. That’s what we have to live with.”

Still, the 49ers got the ball back with 1:47 left in the game at their own 29-yard line and went three-and-out.

In total, San Francisco struggled throughout on the key down, converting just one-of-13 third-down conversions.

“We were awful on third down,” said Smith, who completed 12-of-26 pass attempts for 196 yards and two touchdowns to Davis, the second being a 28-yard strike in the third quarter. “We got ourselves in a lot of third-and-longs and when we were in third-and-manageable, it was just as bad. I think it was the difference… especially on offense.

“I wish we could have controlled that game a little bit more. We didn’t help out our defense enough, too many three-and-outs, not enough plays to convert those downs and give yourself more plays, more chances.”

Offensively, it didn’t look as if the 49ers would need long drives to find points judging by the outcome of the team’s second offensive possession.

San Francisco scored the first touchdown of the game in the blink of an eye as Davis hauled in a 73-yard touchdown pass from Smith on a perfectly thrown pass to lead the tight end past Giants safety Antrel Rolle.

Officials reviewed the play to see if Davis’s right foot had stepped out of bounds on his way down the New York sideline. The officials, however, couldn’t overturn the touchdown based on a lack of visual evidence; the 49ers jumped out to a 7-0 lead thanks to a two-play scoring drive that lasted just 13 seconds.

The 73-yard scored by Davis tied his previous career long for a receiving score as he caught a 73-yarder against the St. Louis rams in the last game of the 2009 regular season.

“I feel like we left everything on the table,” said Davis, who finished the game with three catches for 112 yards and his two aforementioned receiving scores.

The Giants tied the game at 7 when former 49ers draft pick Bear Pascoe caught a 6-yard touchdown on second-and-goal after running a drag route from the left tight end position. Pascoe’s score capped a 10-play, 69-yard scoring drive to even the game with 11:15 remaining in the first half.

New York added to its first-half lead thanks to the consistent play of wide receiver Victor Cruz. The slot receiver caught eight of his game-high 10 passes in the first half, before finishing the game with 142 yards.

Three of Cruz’s first half catches helped the Giants drive 51 yards on 10 plays to help set up a 31-yard field goal by Tynes, the same distance he would make later in overtime.

Smith attempted two passes but had no completions in the second quarter for the 49ers offense. Meanwhile, Manning and the Giants outscored the 49ers 10-0 in the second quarter alone to take a 10-7 lead into the locker room.

“We all have things we wish could have been different or we could have done better,” Harbaugh said. “Congratulations to the Giants. I thought they played a heck of a ball game and found a way to win. You tip your cap to them.”

It appeared as if the 49ers were ready to compete to start the second half. A 24-yard pass to Gore, who finished with 74 rushing yards and a team-high six receptions for 45 yards, set up Davis’ second touchdown.

Davis’ fourth touchdown of the postseason saw him get the best of another opposing safety, as this time Davis beat Giants safety Kenny Phillips to cap a 3-play, 54-yard scoring drive.

With the 49ers clinging to a 17-14 lead thanks to a Ray McDonald bull-rushing his way to another third-down sack (he finished with 2.5 on the day, San Francisco was in position to add to its lead.

Instead, the 49ers committed the game’s first turnover when Williams stayed around a Giants punt long enough for his right knee to touch the football. As a result, New York regained the lead on the 17-yard Manning to Manningham touchdown pass on a third-down pass with 8:34 left to play.

The Giants found success on third down, converting 7-of-21 third down plays. Meanwhile, the 49ers couldn’t find the same proficiency.

“Overtime in the NFC Championship game, it’s a lot of work,” said Smith, stunned at the final result. “It’s a tough road to even get here. When get here, you’re so close. It’s not good. It’s not a good feeling.”

Despite the frustrating outcome, players and coaches know they’ve built a strong foundation in the brief matter of time they’ve spent together.

“I’m proud of the way our players played. I’m proud of the way they worked, they competed and it wasn’t there for us today,” Harbaugh said. “In a lot of ways, we played well enough to win and we don’t come away with it, it’ll be a tough one. Might take awhile to get over it, but we’ll get over it. This team’s not defeated by any stretch of the imagination.”


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