49ers Prep for Championship Rematch


There wasn't any need for motivational talks or tactics to start this week's preparation at San Francisco 49ers headquarters. It wasn't really necessary with this week's opponent – the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants will be the ones entering Candlestick Park for Sunday's NFC matchup.

The 49ers, themselves, are treating it like any other game.

"Just another game on the schedule," cornerback Tarell Brown said.

By moving on from last season's series split (a 27-20 Week 10 regular season win for the 49ers at Candlestick and a heart-breaking 20-17 overtime home loss in the NFC title game to the Giants), San Francisco remains focused on the competitive game that lies ahead.

The ones in the past are in the past. The 2012 regular season encounter represents a new opportunity.

"Offensively, defensive and special teams-wise we were further along than we were last year," defensive tackle Ray McDonald said on Tuesday. "We've learned the system and got more acquainted with each other. We're further along."

San Francisco (4-1) has made strides on both sides of the ball. The offense ranks first in the NFL in rushing, averaging 195.9 yards per game. Defensively, the 49ers are still tough against the run (No. 7 in the NFL, allowing 81.4 yards per game). However, the unit has picked up its production against the pass, allowing 181.2 yards per game which ranks second-best in the league.

The defensive production bodes well against a New York club (3-2) that averages 309.0 passing yards per game, which ranks third-best in the NFL.

A highlighted matchup this Sunday is between Pro Bowl cornerback Carlos Rogers and All-Pro wide receiver Victor Cruz.

Cruz lined up mostly last season as the Giants slot receiver, but has taken over a starting role in 2012. The star wideout is also coming off a career-high, three-touchdown game last week against Cleveland. Though Cruz lines up in the slot for New York's multi-receiver sets, this year, he's lining up on the outside on base-personnel downs.

Rogers, himself, admitted that he's quite familiar with NFC East teams from his time with the Washington Redskins. San Francisco's eighth-year cornerback, however, said all the experience against New York goes out the window when Sunday's game begins.

"Once you get out there, you still have to do it," explained Rogers, a key cog in San Francisco recording 12 interceptions in the team's last 12 home games dating back to 2010.

Rogers joked that he'll grab former Giants wideout, turned teammate, Mario Manningham for some counseling this week on New York's offense. But even with added understanding of New York's offense, the 49ers defense will have to stop it. Conversely, it's the same story for the Giants.

Sunday's game might be attracting extra fanfare because of last season's ending to the NFC playoffs, but in reality, fans will be seeing two of the league's best offenses square-off.

The 49ers have scored on 49.1 percent of their possessions this season, ranking second in the NFL behind the Giants, who have scored on 51.8 percent of their possessions.

"This will be another good physical game that we have to prepare for – the next game on our schedule is always the most important one," stressed fullback Bruce Miller. "We've got to continue to build on what we've done so far, running the football and I think we did a lot better in the passing game. We can build on that and keep running the football as well."

In the same way the 49ers offense has made strides in recent weeks, the defense remains dominant as ever and continues to build on its performance on a weekly basis. Rogers explained that the defensive dominance of the past two weeks, holding the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills to a combined three points, was all a result of the defense continuing to build trust among the unit.

"It's our second year in this defense, the communication is better," Rogers explained. "The better we understand the defense and offenses better, it helps the whole team. We communicate, we fly around and everybody's about this team, it's not about a selfish person getting his praise or his credit.

"Each of us is trying to get better and help the team the best we can."

Communication will key against a pass-heavy Giants attack.

Eli Manning continues his role as New York's unquestioned leader. He's the same quarterback who withstood constant pressure in last season's NFC title game to deliver for his team in a tough matchup with the 49ers that was decided in overtime.

Besides earning a trip to his second Super Bowl, Manning further established the respect opponents have for his talents. Manning showed a lot of toughness that day in the minds of the 49ers defenders.

"He's a good quarterback so you can expect that from a guy like that," McDonald said. "He's in the elite class of QBs in this league. We don't expect anything less. He's going to get hit, keep getting up, and keep making good throws. That's what happens with a guy like that."

Brown considers Manning to be at his best when he's able to spread the ball around to a variety of targets.

The 49ers cornerback looks forward to the challenge of stopping it, too.

"It's always exciting to go against a Super Bowl MVP and the two-time Super Bowl champions," Brown said. "It's a positive. We look forward to it. They're going to gameplan us the same way we're going to gameplan them – let's let the best man win on Sunday."

So instead of placing too much importance on this week's game, the team has maintained its even-keeled, "humble hearts" approach, the one that has them off to a 4-1 start.

"The most important thing is being consistent, doing our job," Brown said. "Anytime you have a win streak going, you want to keep it going, get better and focus on the little things to get right and make yourself better.

"If we stay working, keep our head down and keep chopping wood, I think everything will take care of itself."

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