SAN FRANCISCO -- The 49ers' unbelievable journey ended Sunday, as New York advanced to Super Bowl XLVI with a 20-17 overtime victory over San Francisco in the NFC Championship.Kyle Williams' fumble on a punt return gave New York the ball deep in San Francisco territory, setting up Lawrence Tynes for the game-winner from 31 yards out, 7:54 into overtime.
Tynes also delivered the game-winning kick in OT at Green Bay in the 2008 NFC title game.
On the game-turning play, New York's Devin Thomas recovered his second fumble of the day after Jacquian Williams stripped Williams.
You hate to be the last guy that had the ball, to give it away in that fashion and to lose a game of this magnitude," Williams said in a somber 49ers locker room. "It is what it is. We're going to move forward as a team. Everyone has come to pat me on the back and the shoulder to say it's not me."
Early in the game, quarterback Alex Smith and tight end Vernon Davis picked up where they left off from a week earlier, twice burning the Giants with long pass plays.
But it was not enough on a cold and rainy day at Candlestick Park.
"Congrats to the Giants," head coach Jim Harbaugh said in his postgame press conference. "I thought they played a heck of a ballgame and found a way to win. You tip your cap to them."The 49ers' bid to advance to the Super Bowl for the sixth time in franchise history and the first time since the 1994 season fell short.
"We knew it was going to be a tough game, that's a great team over there," 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers told Comcast SportsNet Bay Area's Mindi Bach. "It's all you can do -- everybody put everything in, I put everything in, put it on the table. Whatever happens, happens. ... It was a battle and they came out on top."
Nevertheless, even in defeat, it represented an end to a remarkable season. The 49ers were 6-10 last season, and expectations were low -- in large part because the lockout eliminated all offseason programs across the NFL."Whether we had to go to 100 times in overtime or win it in regulation, in our minds we knew that game had to be ours. We was going to win that game, but unfortunately we didn't," 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said.
After the lockout lifted, Harbaugh quickly instilled a team-first attitude and mindset that focused, as he said, on getting one-percent better every day.At the end of training camp, all 53 men who earned spots on the roster, as well as the coaching staff, were rewarded with work shorts with name tags affixed to reinforce the commitment to the blue-collar mentality.When asked last week to sum up the 49ers in a word or two, Harbaugh answered: "I'll use six: The team, the team, the team. And with this team, that's not just a mantra, that's who they are."The 49ers embraced that mentality to a 13-3 regular-season record and NFC West title.Davis caught a 28-yard pass from Smith with 5:18 remaining in the third quarter to give the 49ers a 14-10 lead. The play broke an offensive drought that began after Smith hit Davis for a 73-yard touchdown midway through the first quarter.The 49ers tied it at 17-17 when they drove 68 yards and scored on David Akers' 25-yard field goal with 6:42 remaining.The Giants took a 17-14 lead with 8:18 left in the fourth quarter on Eli Manning's 17-yard touchdown pass to Mario Manningham. The Giants went after 49ers fourth cornerback Tramaine Brock, who was pressed into service when Tarell Brown was knocked from the game at the end of the third quarter with a head injury when he collided with teammate Dashon Goldson.The Giants got a break to set up that score when punt returner Williams, handling the duties with Ted Ginn out with a knee injury, touched a punt, allowing the Giants to recover at the 49ers' 29-yard line. It would prove to be a precursor to disaster.
It was a back-and-fourth game throughout. After Davis' 73-yard touchdown, in which he blew past safety Antrel Rolle, the Giants evened things up early in the second quarter.The Giants matched the 49ers with a 10-play, 69-yard drive that was capped by Manning's 6-yard scoring pass to tight end Bear Pascoe, a 2009 draft pick of the 49ers. Pascoe was released at the end of training camp and never played a regular-season down with the 49ers.Manning repeatedly looked for receiver Victor Cruz, who was mostly matched against Rogers. Cruz caught eight passes for 125 yards in the first half. Four of his receptions came on the go-ahead drive, which ended with Tynes' 31-yard field goal with :02 remaining.Tight end Delanie Walker, who sustained a fractured jaw on Christmas Eve, returned to action just four weeks after the injury. He played most of the game, as the 49ers primarily used two-TE sets.
The disappointing defeat echoed a similar outcome in 1991, when Roger Craig fumbled with the 49ers leading 13-12 late in the fourth quarter, ushering in a 15-13 Giants win that harlted San Francisco's march to a third straight Super Bowl. The Giants defeated Buffalo in the Super Bowl.