San Francisco Examiner

NFC Wild Card: 49ers vs Giants
 
 
January 04, 2003
 
Last regular-season meeting: Sept. 5, 2002 at Giants Stadium.
Outcome: 49ers, 16-13
Last playoff meeting: Jan. 15, 1993
Outcome: 49ers, 44-3
The line: 49ers +3

San Francisco 49ers (10-6)

Coach: Steve Mariucci

Years with 49ers: Six

Career record: 57-39 (.594)

Postseason record: 2-3

Last postseason game: A 25-15 loss at Green Bay in NFC wild-card game on Jan. 13, 2002 at Lambeau Field

49ers summary: The 49ers went 3-4 in the final seven weeks of the NFL season, which is not what you want from a team heading into the playoffs. The offense has stuttered and the defense has given up an average of 21.3 points per game -- the most of any of the teams that qualified for postseason play. Quarterback Jeff Garcia has thrown just 21 TDs -- with 13 of them going to Terrell Owens. The Niners are 10th in the NFC in scoring inside the red zone. Rookie Mike Rumph will start in place of right corner Jason Webster, who is out with an ankle injury.

New York Giants (10-6)

Coach: Jim Fassel

Years with Giants: Six

Career record: 54-41-1 (.563)

Postseason record: 2-2

Last postseason appearance: A 34-7 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XXXV in 2000.

Giants summary: New York is coming in riding a four-game winning streak, the best of the 12 teams that qualified for the playoffs, and is peaking at the right time. Tiki Barber had a career game in the season-ending win over the Eagles, rushing for a career-high 203 yards, but he lost four fumbles. If Barber can take care of the ball and quarterback Kerry Collins can take advantage of the 49ers' injury-plagued secondary, it could be a disappointing afternoon for Niners fans. New York averages more than 250 yards per game passing and nearly 120 rushing.

Four matchups to watch

49ers WR Terrell Owens vs. Giants' defensive backs

When these teams last met in September, the Giants double-teamed Owens with a cornerback and a safety. The strategy worked for the most part; New York limited the Pro Bowl receiver to three receptions for 8 yards before linebacker Dhani Jones missed his assignment and let Owens break free for a 33-yard reception that set up Jose Cortez's game-winning 36-yard field goal with six seconds left. The Giants will once again attempt to blanket Owens -- who had a career-high 100 receptions with 13 touchdowns this season -- with multiple defenders and dare Tai Streets and J.J. Stokes to beat them.

49ers LB Julian Peterson vs. Giants TE Jeremy Shockey

Peterson was invited to his first Pro Bowl in large part for the job he did against Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez. Peterson held the perennial Pro Bowl TE to just one catch in the 49ers' 17-13 win in Week 10 over Kansas City at Candlestick Park. But Shockey is a different, more physical animal who gives Collins a big target in the middle of the field. Shockey was the NFL's leading pass-receiving tight end, finishing with 74 receptions for 894 yards. Peterson is one of the most athletic linebackers in the league, but he will face his toughest test of the season.

49ers RT ScottGragg vs. GiantsDE Michael Strahan

Gragg spent five seasons in New York before joining the 49ers as a free agent in 2000, so he knows Strahan and all of his moves well. Gragg pitched a shutout the last time Niners faced the Giants, holding the Pro Bowl defensive end to just four tackles. Strahan had 11 sacks this season, but Gragg is a particularly tough matchup for Strahan because Gragg is big and difficult to maneuver around. Strahan comes in with 5 sacks in the Giants' past four postseason games and he'll be looking to get even with Gragg.

Niners CB Ahmed Plummer vs. Giants WR Amani Toomer

The last time these two squared off, Toomer had nine receptions for 134 yards, with 95 yards coming in the first half. Toomer, the former De La Salle high school star, set the franchise single-season record with 82 receptions and 1,343 receiving yards. He's been the catalyst for the Giants' passing offense and a safety net for Collins, who has passed for 4,073 yards. The game could turn on how well Plummer does against Toomer, particularly since starting right corner Jason Webster has a left ankle sprain and is listed as questionable for Sunday's contest. Plummer is battling a groin strain.

-- Ricci Graham


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