SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Buried in a 24-point playoff hole after a season of missed opportunities, the San Francisco 49ers finally woke up.
After that, Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens could do nothing wrong – and the New York Giants made a monumental collapse, all the way down to their new long snapper.
Garcia hit Tai Streets with a 13-yard touchdown pass with 1 minute left, and the Giants botched the snap on a 41-yard field-goal attempt as time expired in San Francisco’s 39-38 victory yesterday. It was the second-biggest comeback in NFL playoff history.
Right down to a confusing, contentious ending, it was a game with more twists, turns and dramatic moments than most teams would see in years – from Amani Toomer’s three touchdown catches to Kerry Collins’ impressive performance, from Garcia’s impossibly gutsy leadership to the fight that broke out at the height of the tension.
The 49ers (11-6) trailed 38-14 with 4 minutes left in the third quarter, but they scored 25 straight points on two TD passes and a scoring run by Garcia, as well as two two-point conversion catches by Owens.
After Garcia drove the Niners 68 yards in just over two minutes for Streets’ score, Collins got New York to the San Francisco 28 with six seconds left. But long snapper Trey Junkin, signed earlier in the week, made a low snap that Matt Allen couldn’t handle.
Allen threw a desperate pass that fell incomplete, and after New York was penalized for illegal men downfield, the Niners leaped, sprinted and collapsed onto the field in a raucous celebration before an exhausted Candlestick crowd.
The 49ers advanced to face Tampa Bay next Sunday, but the Buccaneers will have no idea which San Francisco team they’ll face – the one that stumbled through the first 40 minutes, or the one that flattened the Giants with an unbelievable rally.