4:30 PM ET, January 5, 2003
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Nobody thought the San Francisco 49ers had it in them. Nobody imagined their 24-point hole was anything but a grave.
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-- The Associated Press
Garcia was incredible, but Owens was just as good. He caught TD passes of 76 and 26 yards, and inspired his teammates to victory with fiery speeches at halftime and in the fourth-quarter huddles -- a remarkable development for a Pro Bowl player who has few close friends on the team."I asked everybody who could make plays,'' Owens said. "I told them I could. Other guys chimed in. They could. I said, 'We have a lot of weapons. We have to play with poise. Time is on our side.'''Garcia went 27-of-44 for 331 yards and three TDs. He also rushed for 60 yards, including a 14-yard score on the first play of the fourth quarter. Two of Garcia's TD throws went to Owens, who had nine catches for 177 yards -- most of them while dragging defenders or sprinting past them after catches.After Garcia drove the Niners 68 yards in just over 2 minutes for Streets' score, Collins got New York to the San Francisco 23 with 6 seconds left. But Junkin, a 41-year-old journeyman signed earlier in the week, made a low snap that Matt Allen couldn't handle.Allen threw a desperate pass that fell incomplete, although it was only third down and he might have been able to spike the ball and given the Giants another shot at a field goal.After New York was penalized for illegal men downfield on the play, the Niners leaped, sprinted and collapsed onto the field in a raucous celebration before an exhausted Candlestick crowd."I tried to make the perfect snap instead of a good snap. You can't do that,'' Junkin said. "This is something I've done for 32 years, but not anymore. If you can't count on me at the end of the game, that's it, I'm done."I cost 58 guys a chance to go to the Super Bowl. I'd give anything in the world, except my family at this point, right now to still be retired."The 49ers advanced to face Tampa Bay next Sunday, but the Buccaneers will have no idea which San Francisco team they'll face: the one that stumbled through the first 40 minutes, or the one that flattened the Giants with an unbelievable rally."This is about the worst loss I have ever felt in my entire life,'' said Giants coach Jim Fassel, whose team made the playoffs with four straight victories. "I'm not going to get over this one for a while.''Though New York's collapsing defense should bear most of the blame for the debacle, the Giants (10-7) finally were undone by Junkin. He put in his retirement papers last month, but was signed to replace injured Dan O'Leary."I was watching all these bad snaps and wondering: 'How many games are you going to lose over a snap?' It was frustrating,'' Junkin said earlier this week.On the final play, Junkin's snap was low and away. Allen never had a chance to set it up for Matt Bryant.Collins was 29-of-43 for 342 yards and four touchdowns, guiding New York to a lead that seemed insurmountable, while Toomer caught eight passes for 136 yards. Tiki Barber, who had 115 yards rushing and 62 yards receiving, blew a kiss to the stunned Candlestick crowd after he scored to put New York up 35-14.But the Niners rallied with a purpose and poise that they've rarely shown this season. Owens caught a TD pass late in the third quarter to start the rally, and made big catches on every drive -- right up to the final minutes, when Garcia found Streets in the left corner for a score."You never think you have it won until there's no time on the clock,'' Collins said. "I didn't sense on the sidelines that we thought we had it, and we just needed to coast the rest of the game.''Jeremy Shockey, the Giants' brash rookie tight end, taunted the 49ers' sideline after just his second reception -- and threw ice water in the direction of heckling fans in a moment of frustration on the New York sideline.But Shockey, who had seven catches for 68 yards, dropped a potential TD pass late in the third quarter, forcing New York to kick a field goal.The Giants never scored again -- and San Francisco rolled into the conference semifinals.The final seconds were exhausting and confusing. With 3:01 left, Bryant -- kicking out of a poor hold, thanks to another poor snap by Junkin -- badly missed a 42-yard field goal on fourth-and-1.Garcia took over, converting two straight third downs for the NFL leaders in that category. Tight end Eric Johnson caught a 25-yard pass to the New York 25, and Garcia scrambled 12 yards to set up his scoring pass to Streets.
Where will Terrell Owens be catching passes in 2004? Stay tuned.
Owens threw a 25-yard pass to Streets in the second quarter, setting up Kevan Barlow's 1-yard TD plunge. Owens hadn't thrown a pass all season, but the Niners worked on the play in practice earlier in the week. ... Toomer tied an NFL playoff record with his three TD catches. ... Niners starting CB Jason Webster missed the game with a sprained ankle.
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