The 49ers drew first blood and played hard, but in the end fell short, losing to the New York Giants 20-17 in overtime.
The loss ended a remarkable season for the team, which went 14-2 under rookie head coch Jim Harbaugh and came within an eyelash of playing for the NFL championship. When they watch game film, the team will see that it was two special teams mistakes -- one in overtime -- that cost them so dearly. The Giants capitalized on the second one, an overtime fumble, taking possession and kicking a game-winning field goal.
The battle-tested Giants secured their second trip to the Super Bowl in only four years.
The 49ers defense, having sacked Giants quarterback Eli Manning six times on the night, didn't blink, but special teams play haunted the end of the 49ers otherwise stunning, turnaround 2012 season.
This is the third time in the past five seasons the NFC Championship went to overtime.
With the rain letting up in the second half, the Giants and 49ers both tried to open up their offensive engines a little -- the Giants going more to the air; the 49ers to the ground (at least until the end).
The persistent, fourth-quarter drama started with a muffed punt.
Shortly after the defense pummeled Manning, the ball inadvertantly glanced off the 49ers punt returner, giving the ball to the Giants on their 29-yard line. Manning soon fired a 17-yard strike to Mario Manningham to give the Giants a 17-14 lead (his first catch of the game).
The 49ers responded with a drive to the Giants 10-yard line, resulting in a David Akers game-tying field goal with 5:39 to go, 17-17. Niners quarterback Alex Smith kept that drive alive with a key 17-yard run to the Giants 32-yard line.
Both teams' quarterbacks had more ups than downs, with the 49ers sticking to their field-position game plan and the Giants looking for the big plays that have been their signature this season. The home-field noise, and the wet field, combined to hamper the Giants' normal game plan -- until it didn't.
The battle for line of scrimmage was largely owned by the Giants defensive line until the fourth quarter, but the 49ers d-line kept Manning in check for the second half.
The mutual respect between Niners' receiver Vernon Davis and Giants' receiver Victor Cruz turns out to be well warranted: both players had outstanding NFC Championship games -- even if they were virtually shut out in the fourth quarter.