For all the talk heading into this year's NFC title game about Eli Manning and the dangerous Giants passing attack, or about how the team's defense has been hitting its stride at exactly the right time, the play everyone will be talking about on Monday came on special teams. And for good reason: The fumble that Jacquian Williams forced following a Giants punt gave them great field position in overtime, when all they needed was a field goal to win the game and advance to the Super Bowl. It was also exactly the kind of break the Giants needed: The San Francisco defense had been making things increasingly difficult for Manning and the Giants' offense, and the recovered fumble provided one final momentum shift (not to mention the aforementioned great field position).
The Giants' final drive ate up 2:30 of game time, but when a team is a makeable kick away from a Super Bowl, what takes just a few minutes in real time can feel like an eternity. While this game was all kinds of stressful, in the end it was worth it: Despite a low snap (holy Trey Junkin, was that scary), Lawrence Tynes's field goal sailed through the uprights, and for the second time in five seasons, the Giants' kicker sent his team to the Super Bowl. Final score: Giants 20, San Francisco 17. If you're keeping track, the Giants are now 5-0 all-time in the NFC Championship Game.
Earlier this week, Giants special teams coordinator Tom Quinn said that San Francisco had the best special teams unit in the league, so it's safe to say, Quinn's a happy guy tonight — especially since the overtime play wasn't the game's only crucial special teams moment. Devin Thomas, who'd go on to recover the overtime fumble, also recovered a ball in the fourth quarter that hit off San Francisco punt-returner Kyle Williams, and shortly after, Manning would hit Mario Manningham for a touchdown to give the Giants a 17-14 lead.
The Giants frustrated fans for a long time this season, but it's hard not to love this team now. (Unless, of course, you are Rex Ryan. This has to be his nightmare scenario, especially considering the Giants' Super Bowl opponent.) There are few things in sports more exciting than an unexpected playoff run, and the Giants have given us two in five seasons.
The Giants have been playing with house money for the past couple of weeks, at least when you consider the relatively low expectations for this team heading into the season. And that's still true, to some degree. No matter what happens in two weeks, this playoff run has been a blast. But you know how these past couple of games the Giants have been on something of a revenge tour? Well, now it's the Patriots who will seek revenge, against the team that beat them not only earlier in the season, but more famously in Super Bowl XLII. The stakes are pretty high at this point in the season, no matter who's facing off in the final game. But considering the teams that will play two weeks from now in Indianapolis, the stakes somehow feel even higher than usual.