San Jose Mercury

49ers players `anxious to start over'
January 01, 2003

By Mark Gomez
Mercury News

Coach Steve Mariucci didn't waste time breaking down film of the 49ers' fourth-quarter collapse that gave the St. Louis Rams a 31-20 victory Monday night.

Instead, he began preparing a game plan for the team's wild-card game Sunday against the visiting New York Giants. He knows the 49ers will be facing a vastly different Giants team than the one they defeated 16-13 in the season opener.

The biggest difference: the Giants have one of the NFL's most potent offenses.

``They have improved,'' Mariucci said Tuesday. ``They are very productive and are very confident. It will be one of those great games.''

The Giants enter the playoffs on a roll, having won four in a row and seven of their past nine games. Although they squeaked into the playoffs with a 10-7 overtime victory over Philadelphia on Saturday -- a missed field-goal attempt late in regulation kept them alive -- the Giants are arguably the hottest team in the NFC. The Giants have scored an average of 29.4 points in their past five games.

The 49ers welcome the challenge, especially after losing their season finale after outplaying the Rams for three quarters.

``They're anxious to start over,'' Mariucci said of his players. ``It's a new season, and they have to look at it like that. We'll find out who the best team is.''

Offensively, the Giants have relied heavily on running back Tiki Barber, who no longer shares the load with Ron Dayne. Barber is the NFC's second-leading rusher and ranks No. 1 in total offensive yards (despite rushing for just 29 yards in 15 carries against the 49ers in their previous meeting).

Giants quarterback Kerry Collins led the NFC with 4,073 yards passing and threw for 342 against the 49ers in Week 1. After throwing three interceptions in that game, Collins has thrown 11 in 15 games.

``They're throwing the ball well,'' Mariucci said. ``In general they're playing very good football.''

Amani Toomer, a graduate of De La Salle High in Concord, was the NFC's second-leading receiver this season with 1,343 yards. He had a big game against the 49ers in their previous meeting, making nine catches for 134 yards. Considering the 49ers might be without cornerback Jason Webster -- he sprained his left ankle against the Rams and is questionable for Sunday -- Toomer could pose problems.

The player who has made the biggest impact on the Giants is Jeremy Shockey. The flamboyant rookie led NFL tight ends in receiving yards with 894.

Mariucci said that Shockey is no longer a rookie, and jokingly added that the tight end is ``playing with a little confidence, a little swagger.''

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