Contra Costa Times

Giants-49ers game a rematch in name only
January 03, 2003
By Cam Inman

SANTA CLARA - By team names only, yes, you can call it a rematch Sunday when the 49ers host the New York Giants in a first-round playoff game.

But those teams have changed in many ways and reshaped themselves in the four months since the 49ers beat the Giants 16-13 in the NFL season opener Sept. 5 at Giants Stadium.

"At first they had a good team and all that, but they weren't clicking like they should," 49ers cornerback Mike Rumph said of the Giants. "Now when I watch film, they're clicking in pretty much all the areas."

The Giants (10-6) enter the playoffs as the NFC's top wild-card team, and with an NFC-best four-game win streak. The 49ers (10-6) won their first NFC West title since 1997, but they have lost four of their past seven games.

Giants quarterback Kerry Collins said it seems like "30 weeks ago" when the 49ers and Giants last met. Since then, they've dealt with their share of injuries and game-plan adjustments.

The Giants offense was reborn when coach Jim Fassel took over play-calling duties after a 3-4 start.

"We went through a metamorphosis when Jim took over the play-calling duties," said Collins, who's enjoyed a career year hitting favorite targets Amani Toomer and rookie Jeremy Shockey. "He cut out a lot of the shifts and a lot of motions. We are probably a lot more vanilla."

For the 49ers, their offensive catalyst remains wide receiver Terrell Owens, but their defense has had to compensate for the loss of their unsung leader, free safety Zack Bronson, who broke his foot Oct. 14. Bronson, though, is expected to return Sunday to the starting lineup.

Personnel and game plans aren't all that's changed. So have players' emotions, such as those of 49ers right tackle Scott Gragg, a former Giant.

"The first time, it was a lot of reflection and how great it would be to beat the team I played for," he said. "Now it's two teams fighting it out to play another week. It's a different feeling for me."

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