Contra Costa Times

It's no snap assigning the reason for the Giants' defeat
January 07, 2003
It was more than a botched field goal attempt that caused N.Y.'s loss to the 49ers

By Eric Gilmore

SAN FRANCISCO - For every hero, there's a goat. For every amazing comeback, there's a mind-boggling collapse.

The 49ers will remember their 39-38 wild-card playoff victory Sunday over the New York Giants as the second-greatest playoff comeback in NFL history. The Giants will remember it as the game they gave away.

The Giants blew a 24-point third-quarter lead.

That's why the pain was so deep and the wounds so raw in the Giants locker room. That's why they're facing an offseason that will seem longer than a winter in Buffalo, home of the NFL's only team to pull off a bigger playoff comeback than the 49ers did Sunday. The Bills overcame a 35-3 deficit to beat the Houston Oilers 41-38 in a 1992 wild-card game.

"I'd say this loss was about as bad of a loss as I've ever had in my life," Giants coach Jim Fassel said.

Fassel lost a Super Bowl two years ago. That tells you how bad Sunday's loss was.

To their credit, the Giants gave the 49ers credit for roaring back, for refusing to quit, for overcoming what appeared to be insurmountable odds when they trailed 38-14 with 4:27 left in the third quarter.

Yet the Giants also pointed to their own failings. Where to start? What better place than the game's final play.

All the Giants had to do was kick a 41-yard field goal to win the game, to make everything right that had gone so wrong. Kicker Matt Bryant never had a chance.

Trey Junkin's snap was low and wide. Holder Matt Allen heaved a desperation pass downfield that fell incomplete. Game over.

Here's how fickle fate can be in the NFL: Giants long-snapper Dan O'Leary tore a ligament in his hand last week against Philadelphia. The Giants signed Junkin, a former Raider, on Tuesday. He cost the Giants six points with two bad snaps in the fourth quarter -- Bryant got his foot on a 42-yard attempt but hooked it wide left.

"We had one little job to do, and we didn't get it done," Bryant said.

The Giants had plenty of blame to go around, especially on defense. They had no answer for the 49ers' no-huddle, hurry-up attack. And when the 49ers stormed back to take the lead with one minute left, a few Giants lost their composure.

Strong safety Shaun Williams was penalized for unnecessary roughness, responding to 49ers wide receiver Terrell Owens' taunts -- Owens was flagged, too. Then after the 49ers' two-point try failed -- Will Allen intercepted Jeff Garcia's pass in the end zone -- another scuffle broke out.

Owens was penalized for hitting Allen out of bounds. Instead of accepting the good fortune of 15 free yards, Williams took a swing at 49ers center Jeremy Newberry, who was wrestling with Allen. Williams drew a flag and got kicked out of the game.

"It was very chaotic," Giants quarterback Kerry Collins said. "Fights and all that stuff. To me, that's a complete loss of composure. That's going to help you lose ballgames. We lost ours. I think they lost theirs. It was total mayhem."

"We just have to keep our composure, take it back to our sidelines," Allen said.

Williams blamed Owens for starting the chaos. He said it was Owens who "kept approaching" him and kept talking after the go-ahead touchdown. He said he was "just trying to protect" Allen when he took a swing at Newberry.

Owens said it was Williams who had talked trash to him the entire game.

"I've never heard anyone call me so many names," Owens said. "I kept my composure. He was a hothead."

The Giants defense melted down from the moment the 49ers started using their no-huddle attack late in the third quarter. They no-huddled their way 70 yards in seven plays for a touchdown, Garcia hitting Owens for 26 yards.

The momentum had changed. The Giants never got it back.

"We gave the game away," Giants defensive end Michael Strahan said. "We can't blame anybody but ourselves. It's not a two-quarter game. It's not a ... three-quarter game. It's a four-quarter game.

"I don't know what happened. I don't know if we lost our focus or what. Now we go home. All offseason to think of it. You might as well quit if this doesn't fuel your fire."

It's hard to blame the Giants offense for this loss after scoring 38 points. Then again, tight end Jeremy Shockey dropped a touchdown pass in the third quarter -- the Giants settled for a field goal. The Giants didn't score a point in the final 19:27.

"How can you explain it?" said Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer, a De La Salle High School graduate. "We lost a game we were clearly in control of. It just got away."

It's hard to blame Toomer, who had a superb game.

Even before he went out and caught three touchdown passes, he was drawing kudos. When Toomer came out for pregame warmups, he received a large ovation from the stands by the Spartans football team, which was honored at halftime for its 138-game win streak.

"I was thinking if we won the game, it would be a great day," Toomer said. "Since we lost, it was a wash." Of Toomer's eight receptions for 136 yards, three went for first-half touchdowns. All of Toomer's catches came against 49ers cornerback Ahmed Plummer. "I felt I had an advantage over him the whole game," Toomer said.

"He made some really great plays," Plummer said. "I was partly responsible for that. But to his credit, he's a fast receiver and he's got good awareness for where the ball is."

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