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Playoff grades: Giants-49ers


Grading out the performances from the New York Giants' 20-17 overtime win over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.

Quarterback: If you want to take it on numbers alone, Eli Manning was terrific. He finished with 316 yards passing and two touchdowns, despite being bullied by San Francisco's defense all game. But more importantly, he didn't turn the ball over -- he was close a couple times -- and engineered another clutch fourth-quarter drive. The only real negative came after the 49ers tied things at 17, when five straight Giants drives went nowhere. Grade: B+

Running Backs: Very few teams solved the 49ers' run defense all season, and the Giants joined the parade Sunday. Ahmad Bradshaw rushed for a hard-fought 74 yards on 20 carries -- his longest run of the day was just nine yards. Bradshaw's biggest impact came out of the backfield as a receiver: Six catches for 52 yards. Brandon Jacobs gained a mere 13 yards on five carries and was stuffed on a 4th-and-1 early. Grade: B-

Receivers: Victor Cruz continued his incredible season, turning in a 10-catch, 142-yard day. He had some help too, with eight Giants in all making catches. Hakeem Nicks chipped in 55 yards receiving, despite being banged up early, and New York got clutch TD grabs from Mario Manningham and little-used Bear Pascoe. Grade: A-

Offensive Line: Anytime you allow six sacks, it's a tough day. Fortunately for the Giants, they jumped on Manning's lone fumble in the first quarter, or else this game might have had a different outcome. In trying to limit Justin Smith and Aldon Smith, New York left itself exposed inside to Ray McDonald and some 49ers blitzes. Grade: C-

Defensive Line: The Giants picked up three sacks of their own -- 1.5 from Justin Tuck, 0.5 each from Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka -- and did enough to keep Alex Smith from finding a comfort zone, like he did last week. This group struggled when San Francisco used Kendall Hunter on a few change-of-pace runs but kept Frank Gore from breaking off anything big on the ground. Grade: B

Linebackers: The Giants' linebackers turned in a relatively quiet performance, for better and worse. Chase Blackburn led the team with six tackles but no one from this group did anything game-changing. On the flip side, though, no one gave up anything big, unless you count a 24-yard reception by Frank Gore. It was a perfectly average performance, and that was all the Giants really needed. Grade: C+

Defensive Backs: On the one hand, the Giants secondary is at fault for both of San Francisco's touchdowns. Tight end Vernon Davis beat safety Antrel Rolle deep up the right sideline for a long TD in the first half, then scorched New York's other safety, Kenny Phillips, for a 28-yard score in the second half. On the other hand, however, San Francisco's receivers had all of one catch. Some of that was because of the pressure up front and Smith's struggles, but the secondary deserves some props for its coverage outside. Grade: B-

Special Teams: What more could you ask for from this unit? Lawrence Tynes hit both of his field goals, including the game-winner, and the Giants forced two gigantic turnovers on punts. Jacquian Williams' strip of Kyle Williams in OT was a marvelous play. Grade: A

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Coaching: Tom Coughlin won't be thrilled with nine penalties, and there's no telling why he allowed a delay of game penalty to happen before Tynes' winner. Still, this team just keeps getting it done, in every way possible. Grade: B+

Quarterback: Somewhere along the line Sunday, maybe after his second TD pass to Vernon Davis, Alex Smith regressed a bit. With the Giants pressuring him on every play and his receivers failing to get open, Smith looked flustered on passing plays and failed to find a groove. Both touchdown tosses were well done, but the 49ers' QB did not fire with the same confidence to his other targets that he did to Davis. It's hard to blame him for that, given the roster around him, but San Francisco's inability to generate more points loomed large. Grade: C+

Running Backs: Gore wound up with 119 total yards, so it's hard to really criticize him for anything. Yet, the whole performance felt a little unsatisfying. San Francisco badly needed him to break off a few runs here and there, and he could not get it going. Hunter provided a nice secondary option, with an 18-yard run standing as the 49ers' biggest gain on the ground. Grade: B

Receivers: Vernon Davis almost needs his own grade here. His three catches for 112 yards carried the 49ers' attack, one week after he willed San Francisco past New Orleans. The rest of this group, though, was atrocious. Fellow tight end Delanie Walker had two catches for 36 yards and Gore added those 45 yards, but Michael Crabtree's 3-yard catch was the only -- the only -- grab by a receiver all day. An amazingly pitiful performance in a conference title game. Grade: C (A for tight ends; F for wide receivers)

Offensive Line: Starting guard Mike Iupati limped off early and, despite his return at less than 100 percent, the 49ers' line never really looked in sync from then on. They did an OK job giving Gore a little bit of room to run, and the pass blocking was decent at times. Yet, all in all, the 49ers really found it difficult to impose their will up front. Grade: C

Defensive Line: Up there with the tight ends as San Francisco's best unit Sunday. The 49ers made Manning's life absolutely miserable en route to six sacks, and they kept doing their thing against the run. McDonald's performance was a remarkable one -- he had 5.5 sacks for the entire season, then picked up 2.5 Sunday. Justin Smith wasn't as dominant as he was against the Saints, but he still made his presence felt. Grade: A

Linebackers: The Navorro Bowman-Patrick Willis combo in the middle is as good as it gets in the NFL, and that was on display Sunday. That duo combined for 15 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a pass break-up, and it seemed like one of them was in on just about every play near the line of scrimmage. Letting Bradshaw slip out of the backfield for 50-plus receiving yards hurt a bit. Grade: B+

Defensive Backs: Carlos Rogers chalked up a game-high 11 tackles, but he had major problems covering Cruz from the get-go, so much so that the 49ers had to shift things around a bit to get him more deep help. That changed San Francisco's original plan, which appeared to be to take Hakeem Nicks away and let Rogers go mano-a-mano with Cruz. The 49ers also had two instances where they let interceptions get away because two defenders collided with each other in the secondary. Grade: C-

Special Teams: In a word: Nightmarish. David Akers hit his only field goal, and Andy Lee was his normal high-powered self. But the two biggest plays of the game came from Kyle Williams, who first inexplicably let a punt bounce off his knee -- a turnover that set up New York's go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter -- and then coughed one up in overtime to give the Giants a chance to win. Grade: D

Coaching: When Jim Harbaugh looks back on this game, he'll see a 1-for-13 mark on third downs and wonder if he should have tried something else. Maybe getting Gore more than 16 carries would have helped. Allowing Cruz to go off in the first half didn't speak too well to San Francisco's defensive game plan, either. Grade: C+