FOX Sports Exclusive
Niners value chance at redemption
SANTA CLARA, Calif.
Pity the New York Giants.
This is exactly what head coach Tom Coughlin wants from the media.
Mention that the defending Super Bowl champions haven’t looked super in a 3-2 start.
Point out the defensive injuries that have forced the Eli Manning-led offense to carry a heavier load.
Heap heavy praise on Jim Harbaugh’s “mighty men” of the San Francisco 49ers.
All of this plays into Coughlin’s motivational ploy heading into a rematch of last season’s NFC Championship game. New York’s head coach has pulled out the “respect” card — or should I say lack of respect — to provide his roster with additional inspiration entering the FOX America’s Game of the Week showdown Sunday at Candlestick Park (4:25 p.m. ET).
Coughlin took this tactic public Wednesday when lamenting to Giants reporters that “nobody gives us a chance to win” in San Francisco.
Nor should they, quite honestly.
Coughlin could talk until his face turns Giants blue. He’s not going to get his squad more fired up than Sunday’s opponent.
The 49ers want this game more.
For nine months, they’ve been stewing. The 2011 49ers were oh-so-close to reaching the Super Bowl in an unexpectedly magical season until things fell apart in the NFC title game against the Giants.
Even with a dreadful showing by San Francisco’s wide receivers, the 49ers had a golden chance to win until Kyle Williams fumbled it away. Twice. His two turnovers on muffed punt returns, including one in overtime, led to 10 Giants points in a 20-17 victory.
A 49ers defense that sacked Manning six times had every right to feel as bad as Williams did for his mistakes.
"You can't help but be bitter,” 49ers strong safety Donte Whitner told FOXSports.com.
49ers running back Frank Gore told FOXSports.com the loss was so personally devastating that it contributed to his decision not to play in the Pro Bowl the following week.
“I didn’t want to be around football for a little bit,” said Gore, who was making his first playoff appearance since being drafted by the 49ers in 2005. “When you get that close and you feel like you’re the better team and it didn’t happen for you, it’s real tough. It took a while to get over.”
Other offensive players were devastated for not pulling their weight because of what tight end Vernon Davis described as “miscommunication and missed opportunities.”
“I've been looking forward to this for a while because of last year,” 49ers left tackle Joe Staley told FOXSports.com “It left a bad taste in my mouth, especially our performance on offense and what we feel we're capable of.
“This is the chance for a little bit of redemption.”
There is little reason to believe comeuppance won’t be delivered Sunday. In the past two weeks, the Giants suffered a 19-17 loss at Philadelphia and trailed winless Cleveland, 17-0, before storming back for a 41-24 home victory.
New York is still a dangerous team, but a flawed one right now.
The 49ers, which successfully overhauled their wide receiver corps after the playoff loss to New York, have shown no weakness since a Week 3 loss at Minnesota. San Francisco outscored its past two opponents (the New York Jets and Buffalo) by a combined 79-3 margin. The Bills were so thoroughly dominated that the 49ers (4-1) became the first team in NFL history to gain 300 yards rushing and passing in the same game.
“The fact of the matter is they’re a good team and they’re playing well,” Tuck said. “I think if I was a betting man and didn’t have anything to do with this team, I would probably pick them as favorites, too.”
So what can go wrong for San Francisco on Sunday?
Maybe they make mental errors and commit turnovers because players are too juiced trying to extract revenge. Maybe Alex Smith — the current NFL leader in quarterback rating at 108.7 — isn’t the same passer because of a sprained middle finger on his right (throwing) hand suffered against the Bills. Maybe the Giants get their “NASCAR” pass rush back on track and play their best overall game of the season.
The 49ers, though, won’t lose because they’ve taken Coughlin’s bait and underestimated a foe that the oddsmakers have installed as a 6.5-point underdog. Staley reflected the mental state of his teammates by laughing when asked if there was any chance Coughlin’s comments would cause the 49ers to lose respect for the Giants.
"We feel like we have an opportunity to go back to the NFC Championship Game and make that push for a Super Bowl,” Whitner said. “This is one game where we have to go out and prove it."
And exorcise some demons in the process.
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