New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers: A brutal fight to behold

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- They meet again.

The New York Giants vs. the San Francisco 49ers. Sunday afternoon. At Candlestick Park.

What? Is there a problem with that lead? Were you looking for something more ... clever?

Well, the Giants and 49ers don't necessarily do clever. When these two teams get together, it's a physical battle that, the G-Men say, is like no other.

Safety Antrel Rolle's overriding memory of last season's NFC Championship Game? When Lawrence Tynes' 31-yard field goal was true.

"Just saying to myself, thank God it's over," Rolle recalled.

For the third time since last November, the Giants and 49ers will play on a Sunday at Candlestick Park. The Giants know the 2,565-mile, cross-country flight well. When Giants players describe this matchup as "a fight," as Jason Pierre-Paul did, it's as if they are bracing for it.

"After this game," Pierre-Paul added, "we're going to know where we are as a team."

These teams have volumes of history between them. Their games last season are representative of the all-time series, split evenly in the regular season (14-14) and postseason (4-4).

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The 49ers defeated the Giants, 27-20, last Nov. 13, in part because of Eli Manning's two interceptions, plus a pass swatted away in the final moments by Justin Smith.

"It's these men, these mighty, strong men; they deserve the credit," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said then.

"I'm very disappointed," Giants coach Tom Coughlin offered at the time.

The Giants won the game that mattered more, 20-17 in overtime, to take the NFC championship, in large part because of Kyle Williams' two special-teams fumbles.

"It will take a while to get over," Harbaugh said afterward.

Said Coughlin: "That was a tremendous football game for those that really enjoy football at its very basic element."

Williams told Bay Area media this week that he has been looking forward to the rematch.

"We look at it as if they have something that we should have had," Williams said. "We're going to make sure we don't leave anything on the field again."

To which Coughlin replied: "It's a new year. It's a new time. Two new teams. We earned everything we got last year."

This time, this game does set up as a particular challenge for the Giants. It is the defending champions who have more questions to answer. Can they put the brakes on a 49ers team that has won its last two games, over the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, by a combined score of 79-3?

"Nothing's wrong, except nothing's wrong," Harbaugh said of his defense, adding that his players must continue to challenge themselves. (There are oodles of coaches in the league who must be thinking: "Oh, to have such a problem ...")

Can Manning and Co. be balanced -- and effective -- against the best scoring defense in the league (13.6 ppg)?

"He's a magician," Harbaugh said of Manning withstanding six sacks -- and many more hits -- on 64 dropbacks in last January's championship game.

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Can the Giants' defense, particularly the front four, regain its form from last year's playoff run? (The 49ers were 1-for-13 on third downs in the title game.) Coughlin characterizes New York's heralded pass rush as "what we actually build our team around." He expects improvement and knows it is vital: The Giants have just eight sacks, compared to 18 after five games last year.

Can the Giants match the intensity of a highly motivated, and very good, 49ers team?

"It's going to be a knock-down, drag-out fight," receiver Victor Cruz said. "We're prepared for that, prepared to match their physical play."

And, finally, can Coughlin count on his players continuing to respond to the us-against-the-world theme? It is, after all, the Giants who won in San Francisco to advance to the Super Bowl. The Giants are defending world champions. And yet, the 49ers are considered by many to be the class of the NFC.

"Nobody gives us a chance to win," Coughlin said. "We'll see."

The Giants embrace the underdog role. As Cruz said, "We always have our backs against the wall, which is, in a sense, how we like to play. That's fine with us."

Said Pierre-Paul: "We don't care what anybody says."

Yet Coughlin will make sure they know: "I may take an occasion to remind them."

But in the end, this game will probably come down to a big mistake, as both games last year essentially did. That's why Manning has emphasized playing smart, making blocks, taking advantage of opportunities and not turning the ball over.

"I think you know what to expect," Manning said. "We know that we have to play great football if we want to win."

For Giants versus 49ers, that sounds about right. Surely, you weren't hoping for something more clever.

Follow Kimberly Jones on Twitter @KimJonesSports.

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