49ers eliminated from playoffs in OT heartbreaker 

The hushed tones and somber mood in the 49ers’ locker room following Sunday’s soggy NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park made a loud statement: There would be no sixth trip to the Super Bowl for San Francisco.

Instead, the hoots and hollers came from the visiting locker room just down the hall.

Lawrence Tynes drilled a game-winning 31-yard field goal and the New York Giants pulled out a back-and-forth 20-17 victory in overtime, locking up a spot in the Super Bowl on Feb. 5 in Indianapolis against Serra High School product Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, a rematch from 2008.

“I’m proud of the way we played, the way we competed,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “It wasn’t there for us today. … In a lot of ways, we played well enough to win and didn’t.”

After a regular season in which the 49ers turned the ball over just 10 times, two miscues on punt returns contributed to their downfall Sunday. And the biggest came in overtime.

Kyle Williams, who was returning punts for the injured Ted Ginn Jr., fielded a punt around his own 20-yard line. As he started upfield, the Giants’ Jacquian Williams poked the ball out and Devin Thomas pounced on it at the San Francisco 25-yard line before a Niner could recover.

Three runs by Ahmad Bradshaw pushed the ball even closer for Tynes, who nailed the chip shot.

“It was just one of those situations where I caught the ball, tried to head up field, tried to make a play and it ended up for the worse,” Williams said.

In Harbaugh’s first season, the Niners came out of nowhere to reel off a 13-3 regular season and pull out a riveting NFC divisional playoff victory against the New Orleans Saints last weekend. It was a playoff win fueled by the Alex Smith-Vernon Davis combination and Sunday’s NFC title game began much the same way.

Smith, who finished 12-of-26 for 196 yards, hit Davis for a pair of scores, the second giving the Niners a 14-10 lead, which held up into the fourth quarter.

But when Williams let a punt hit the turf with 11 minutes left in the game, it grazed his leg and was recovered by the Giants deep in San Francisco territory, giving the New York sideline new life.

“We are all in it together,” Niners linebacker Patrick Willis said. “I believe in [Kyle]. If I had to do it again, he’d be the guy. At the end of the day, it’s a team game.”

Seven plays after the muff, Eli Manning, who finished with 316 yards, 142 of which went to Victor Cruz, found Mario Manningham for a 17-yard score and it was 17-14 Giants.

The Niners marched down the field on the ensuing drive to tie it up on a David Akers 25-yard field goal, but that was the last sign of life for the 49ers’ offense.

And for one of the few times this season, the 49ers weren’t able to close out a win.

“It’s one of those things, it hurts right now,” Niners linebacker Patrick Willis said. “Probably [will hurt] even more tomorrow and the day after that.”


Niners offense never able to get into a groove

A week ago, the 49ers’ offense stood toe-to-toe with Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints and made clutch play after clutch play.

In the process, San Francisco silenced some of its most outspoken critics that the offense was simple and designed to manage the game.

But in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the New York Giants at Candlestick Park, it was a different story.

The 49ers were only outgained 352-328, but it was the inability to convert on third downs and put together consistent drives that plagued the offense.

San Francisco went 1-for-13 on third-down conversions and was dominated in time of possession by 11 minutes.

“We got ourselves in third and long,” said Niners quarterback Alex Smith, who completed less than 50 percent of his passes for just the second time this season. “We didn’t help out our defense enough. Too many three-and-outs.”

Of San Francisco’s 14 drives, nine consisted of three plays or less. On the flip side, the Giants were able to churn out six drives of at least nine plays or more.

“[We had] a lot of missed opportunities on the field,” 49ers offensive tackle Joe Staley said. “Didn’t execute on offense.”

Vernon Davis had another dazzling game, catching three passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns. When he outraced the Giants’ defense and tiptoed down the sideline for a 73-yard score in the first quarter to give the 49ers a 7-0 lead, it appeared not even the rain and soggy field could slow down San Francisco’s bid for its first trip to the Super Bowl since 1995.

But that was one of the few explosive plays the Niners were able to produce Sunday. And outside of Davis, San Francisco never established any other threat in the passing game.

Michael Crabtree was the only receiver to make a catch, and he finished with just one for three yards. Running back Frank Gore wound up catching six passes for 45 yards, but most came on screens or dump offs.

“We didn’t get all the things we needed,” Davis said. “We can’t really talk about it because it’s gone, but we can move forward.”


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Dylan Kruse

Dylan Kruse

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