If securing an NFC Championship Game at home was something on Jim Harbaugh’s checklist, then the rookie coach probably had a reason to root for the underdog in the other NFC divisional matchup over the weekend.
"I never really root," the 49ers coach confessed, acknowledging possible danger. "It’s almost like one of those things — be careful what you wish for ... and if I ever do root in a game, it’s always for the team that’s playing harder."
Whether or not he wished for it, the New York Giants played harder than the favored Green Bay Packers, and it’s the NFC East champs who Harbaugh, coming off his first NFL playoff coaching win over the New Orleans Saints on Saturday, will host Sunday before what will likely be another raucous crowd at Candlestick Park.
In spite of perhaps nursing an emotional hangover from the epic win over New Orleans during the final seconds of regulation, the significance of hosting such an event hasn’t been lost on San Francisco’s players.
"It’s huge," said defensive end Justin Smith. "The opportunities are few and far between."
But if the action on Sunday proved anything, it’s that being at home doesn’t guarantee anything.
"It’s going to be a tough matchup," Smith said. "I’m just concerned about going up against a good offense and slowing them down."
Slowing down a good offense is what the pillaging 49ers defense did early against Brees and the Saints.
If Saturday’s divisional struggle were a prizefight, New Orleans on its first possession — like an aggressive fighter in the opening round of a bout — looked to land the first telling blow. Niners safety Donte Whitner looked to do the same — and delivered a knockout wallop.
"You wanna keep something in their head ... that they’re going to get hit when they catch the football," Whitner said, referencing his goal line hit that clobbered Saints running back Pierre Thomas, ended his day and caused the first of many Saints turnovers. "And that goes for any offense that likes to throw it around."
Eli Manning and his slew of receivers also like to throw the ball around.
San Francisco bested the Giants 27-20 during the regular season, starting what would be a four-game losing streak for New York.
But in surging late, Tom Coughlin’s improved bruising bunch has won five of its last six contests, while also displaying a fearsome defense.
"That’s a formidable opponent, that’s a worthy opponent, that’s a scary opponent," Harbaugh said.
49ers vs. Giants
WHEN: Sunday, 3:30 p.m.
WHERE: Candlestick Park
TV: Fox (KTVU, Ch. 2)
RADIO: KNBR (680 AM), KSAN (107.7 FM)