Eli Manning was so battered in last year’s NFC Championship game that he not only became a sympathetic figure among sports fans who had no rooting interest in the game, but he was finally acknowledged as an elite quarterback for the way he constantly got back up to fight.
Manning has only been sacked four times this season — that’s two less than the amount of times the 49ers (4-1) sacked him in the championship game last January.
But as prestigious as that day was, Manning’s teammates, specifically his offensive linemen, hope he doesn’t have to endure another Sunday like that one.
“That game was certainly something we’ve thought about,” said guard Chris Snee. “Even though we won the Super Bowl and we beat them in that game, we still walked away saying that we didn’t play well [and] we didn’t do our job up front. … That can motivate you throughout the offseason.”
Center David Baas, who came over from San Francisco as a free agent last summer, said he’s also taken that game to heart.
“We need to go out there and do a better job. They have a good defense [and] you’ve got to give them credit [because] they touched Eli way too many times,” Baas said, referring to the 12 additional times Niners defenders hit Manning. “That’s something that we have to focus on. They pride themselves on stopping the run, so we have to build on what we did last week and just do the right things this week. … We have to execute our game plan.”
Manning, for his part, remained unfazed about the last time the two teams played. The unflappable quarterback, who went 32-of-58 for 316 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, simply shrugged when reliving the game in his mind.
“We also had 64 drop backs,” Manning said matter-of-factly. “You throw the ball that many times, you’re going to take hits. Hopefully, we can have a good balance of the run and pass. … You’re going to get hit sometimes playing quarterback. You don’t worry about that. Hopefully, you’ll have enough time to get the ball out for the routes to develop, and guys are getting open.”
Manning did, however, show some emotion when discussing the physicality of San Francisco’s defense.
“They’re up there. They’re very good. Their front seven is talented, they have good corners, their safeties come up and tackle and hit. So, they’re good all over the field,” Manning said. “Each player is going to have to win their individual battles, and do a good job of blocking and receivers getting open, and running backs making guys miss.”
The Giants’ offensive line has been stellar in pass protection since allowing three sacks in their opening night loss to Dallas. In the four games since, Manning has been sacked just once, in a victory at Carolina, and not at all the last two games.
Ultimately, no matter how great a quarterback is, he’s only as good as his offensive linemen and supporting cast. So, for the five guys protecting their franchise player, they can only hope their names aren’t called too often and their signal caller stays off the muddy Candlestick Park turf.
“I guess in an ideal world, you guys [media] would still be questioning [Manning’s] toughness because he wouldn’t have gotten hit, but it’s just one of those things,” guard Kevin Boothe said. “It’s football. He’s a tough guy; we know he’s a tough guy, but we like for him to hide his toughness. So hopefully he doesn’t get hit like that ever again.”
Big Blue notes
» Running back Andre Brown (concussion) did not practice on Thursday. Defensive tackle Rocky Bernard (quadriceps) and safety Kenny Phillips (knee) were seen only on the stationary bikes. They did not practice Wednesday either.
» Tight end Martellus Bennett (knee) started practice working off to the side with the trainers, appearing to test his hyperextended knee. He later joined individual drills, catching a few passes.
» Cornerback Corey Webster (hand/hamstring) and linebacker Chase Blackburn (hip) returned to individual drills after sitting out Wednesday’s session. Wideout Ramses Barden (concussion), linebackers Keith Rivers (hamstring) and Michael Boley (hip), right tackle David Diehl (knee), cornerback Jayron Hosley (hamstring) and safety Antrel Rolle (knee) were also seen working while the media were out on the practice field.
» The 49ers’ defense has yielded just three points in their last two games. They are ranked second in the NFL in total defense (the Giants are ranked second offensively), and their run defense is among the league’s best, allowing only 81.4 yards per game. The Giants are well aware that the 49ers’ defense will present a formidable obstacle. In two trips to the Bay area last year, the Giants were unable to rush for 100 yards. They had 93 yards on the ground in a regular-season game loss on Nov. 13 and 85 yards in their title game.
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.