NFC Championship: 3 Reasons the San Francisco 49ers Lost Besides Kyle Williams
The New York Giants punched their ticket to Super Bowl XLVI with a 20-17 overtime win in San Francisco Sunday evening. Lawrence Tynes's game-winning field goal was set up in part by a fumbled punt return deep in 49ers territory.
Kyle Williams, who had already muffed a punt earlier in the game, was responsible for the fumble.
In the unfair field of football analysis and cooler talk, Williams will undoubtedly receive a large share of the blame for handing the Giants great field position in overtime.
Williams made two mistakes in the game, one more glaring than the other. But he is certainly not the sole reason the 49ers were sent packing and should not be handed the full brunt of responsibility.
This slideshow details other players and situations that helped the New York Giants move on.
New York Giants WR Victor Cruz
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Victor Cruz was an undrafted receiver coming out of the University of Massachusetts in 2010. The Giants took a chance on him and are reaping the rewards. He was the league's third-best receiver in 2011, behind only Calvin Johnson and Wes Welker.
He tore up the 49ers' secondary in the NFC Championship, finishing with 10 catches for 142 yards. While Cruz did not catch any touchdowns in the game, his production will be most remembered for prolonging drives.
His two third down grabs to open the second quarter helped lead to Bear Pascoe's touchdown.
It's easy to consider the 49ers a stout team against the pass given their 23 interceptions during the regular season. But they proved to be beatable as a unit on multiple occasions.
Eli Manning topped 300 passing yards and two touchdowns in both meetings this season, and Victor Cruz was his leading receiver each time.
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Here, I am focusing on a lack of forced turnovers by the 49ers as opposed to Kyle Williams's involvement in that category.
The 49ers led the NFL in turnover margin during the regular season at plus-28 behind a vicious defense and effective offense.
Their defense came up with big interceptions all season long and their offense protected the ball. Yet, while the 49ers offense avoided turnovers Sunday, their defense failed to force the Giants into such a play.
They knocked Eli Manning around with six sacks and a variety of hard hits, but Manning controlled the ball well and even escaped pressure on multiple occasions.
It seems the weather had little effect on his throwing, as he attempted 58 passes and completed 32 of them. For a team so reliant on turnovers and field position, the 49ers came off as one-dimensional by failing to force any turnovers whatsoever.
Third Down Ratio
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The 49ers had a difficult time maintaining offensive rhythm by failing to convert crucial third down plays.
Of 13 third downs, San Francisco converted just one—a meaningless pass across the middle of the field to end regulation.
By comparison, the Giants converted 7-of-21 opportunities which ultimately helped them win the time-of-possession battle. They controlled the ball for 11 minutes longer than the 49ers on their way to victory.
It's easy to look at San Francisco's failure to get a wide receiver involved—Alex Smith completed only a three-yard pass to Michael Crabtree—but Smith still got his usual production of 196 yards and two touchdowns.
Frank Gore averaged 4.6 yards per carry Sunday but only rushed 16 times. Kendall Hunter picked up 31 yards on four carries—including an 18-yard rush—but why only four carries?
Even Alex Smith averaged seven yards on six scampers out of the pocket.
Allowing their running backs to work more could have prevented the 49ers from seeing so many long third down situations. Ultimately, the Giants stopped the 49ers from getting comfortable, as evidenced by their 90 offensive plays to San Francisco's 57.
Kyle Williams may be an easy scapegoat for why the 49ers lost, but there is clearly enough blame to go around.