(Reuters) - The New York Giants dashed San Francisco’s Super Bowl dreams last season with an overtime win in the NFC Championship game that remains fresh in the mind of 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh ahead of Sunday’s rematch.
Five plays after San Francisco’s Kyle Williams fumbled a punt in overtime, New York’s Lawrence Tynes kicked a game-winning field goal to put the Giants into the National Football League’s (NFL) championship game.
“I feel our team did what they had done all year, they played their hearts out, they gave it their all and their all was good enough - that’s how I felt,” said Harbaugh, looking back on the home loss to the eventual Super Bowl champions.
While Harbaugh was careful with his words, Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz expects an angrier reaction from 49ers players and fans when teams meet Sunday in San Francisco.
“It’s going to be hostile, we know that,” said Cruz. “It is going to be a heartfelt game, a knockdown, drag-out fight. We’re prepared for that, to match their physical play and ago in there and be ready to go.”
The 49ers enter Week Six of the 2012 NFL schedule at 4-1 while the Giants (3-2) have been less dominant with losses to NFC East divisional rivals Dallas and Philadelphia.
While many pundits consider the 49ers favourites for the game, Giants head coach Coughlin suggested that will be a motivational tool for his team.
“Nobody gives us a chance to win. We’ll see,” he said, while refusing to expand on why the defending champion Giants are considered underdogs.
One reason could be the all-around strength of a 49ers team that last week became the first NFL squad with 300 yards rushing and 300 yards passing in a single game.
San Francisco also have a familiar face in wide receiver Mario Manningham, who they picked up in free agency after he was unable to strike a deal with New York.
Manningham made the key catch, on a 38-yard pass from Eli Manning, to set up the game-winning drive against the New England Patriots in last season’s Super Bowl.
The 26-year-old says he has been passing on plenty of advice to his new team mates about what to expect.
“No question. I talked to the defensive backs and my team mates and let them know, gave them a heads up, what’s going to happen here, things like that,” he said.
The 49ers could also feature another member of last year’s Giants Super Bowl team, running back Brandon Jacobs, who has come back from a left knee injury.
The Green Bay Packers find themselves in the unexpected position of 2-3 and that could get worse after a trip on Sunday to one of the two unbeaten teams - the Houston Texans.
The other 5-0 outfit, the Atlanta Falcons, will fancy their chances at home to the 1-3 Oakland Raiders.
The Minnesota Vikings (4-1) have been one of the positive surprises of the season so far and they face a Washington Redskins team who are awaiting news on whether rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III is ready to go after his concussion last week.
Editing by Julian Linden