The difference in the post-game rhetoric about Eli Manning and Alex Smith is stark. As Manning heads to the Super Bowl to face Tom Brady and the Patriots, the talk again is where Manning falls in the pantheon of elite quarterbacks and whether he and Brady are on the same plane. If Manning wins, he'll have one more Super Bowl title than brother, Peyton, who is generally considered the best quarterback in the game.
Smith, meanwhile, has been vilified for being unable to propel his team to a single point or even a meaningful first down when the 49ers desperately needed one in the fourth quarter and in overtime. All of the goodwill he received following the 49ers' win over the Saints has vanished.
After re-watching Sunday's game, however, the difference between the two quarterbacks from the second half onward was miniscule. Both defenses became dominant as the game went on and made things extremely difficult for the quarterbacks. No one was open. Manning's second half and overtime statistics: 16-31 (51.6 percent) for 135 yards and a touchdown. Smith's: 10-19 (52.6 percent) for 117 yards and a touchdown. Manning was sacked four times in the second half and overtime; Smith was sacked three times. The 49ers converted only once on third down in the second half and overtime. The Giants converted only twice.
It should be noted that Smith also rushed six times in the game for 42 yards. Manning was credited with one run for -2 yards. Both of the Giants' second-half scores followed turnovers by return man Kyle Williams and started deep in San Francisco territory. The 49ers didn't have any takeaways in the game, although Manning had two poorly thrown passes that should have been intercepted but instead fell to the ground when 49ers defensive backs ran into each other.
Smith certainly wasn't perfect. He overthrew Williams on a deep route in the first half. And then in the third quarter, he seemed too cautious when looking for Delanie Walker on a wheel route. Smith clutched the ball, looked elsewhere and was sacked. Walker had beaten his man and there was no safety help over the top. Smith threw one bad pass in the second half that was at Michael Crabtree's feet and was uncatchable.
But to say that Smith bears the blame for the loss or that Manning out-played Smith - especially in the second half and overtime - is incorrect. Both quarterbacks were stifled by excellent defenses.
* The 49ers, who tied for the league lead in takeaways during the regular season, had none against the Giants (although they had their chances). That was the
second third time this season they came away with a goose egg in turnovers. The others were the Thanksgiving loss to the Ravens in Baltimore and the last-minute win in Detroit, although the 49ers got a safety and forced a big fumble that was recovered by the Lions in that game. The turnover margin in Sunday's game, more than anything else, cost the 49ers a trip to the Super Bowl.
• There was lots of chatter about how Williams looked scared throughout the game and that the 49ers shouldn't have put him back to return punts. I didn't see that. Williams looked eager to make plays, and he was in on 41 offensive snaps, the most of his career. Also, there was no head-hunting by the Giants against Williams, although there was plenty of trash talk. The biggest hit Williams took came in the third quarter when Giants safety Tyler Sash leveled him on a return. But it was not a blow to the head and Williams was in on the 49ers ensuing offensive play.
• There's also been plenty of chatter about how Jim Harbaugh won't tolerate having Williams on his team next year after his two costly turnovers. That's not how I read it. I think Harbaugh will be eager to see how Williams responds to what happened. Besides, Williams and Crabtree are the only two wide receivers signed for next season.
• Frank Gore looked perfectly healthy in the game, just as he has the last several weeks of the season. The Giants' attention to the tight ends and receivers allowed Gore to catch six passes for 45 yards, a season high.
• Cornerback Carlos Rogers rallied in the second half. He was targeted 13 times in the first half, eight of which turned into receptions. In the second half and overtime, he was targeted seven times with only two receptions.
• Rogers blitzed at least three times, and Tarell Brown came on a blitz as well. That's more corner blitzing than the 49ers did in any one game during the regular season.
• I thought both guards, Mike Iupati and Adam Snyder played well. As was the case in the Saints game, I wondered why the 49ers didn't try to ram the ball down the Giants' throats in the second half. The 49ers averaged 5.4 yards a carry and Gore averaged 4.6.
-- Matt Barrows