It's finally here - the NFL's biggest game of `King of the Hill' so far this season. But the San Francisco 49ers are not playing the pre-game of hype.
With little more than bragging rights at stake, tonight's matchup between the co-owners of the league's best record, the New York Giants and the 49ers, has had schedule-watchers peeking ahead for more than a month.But the 49ers, winners of two consecutive Super Bowl championships, have reduced the game against the Giants as a chance to right their football team after a 28-17 loss to the Los Angeles Rams last week.
"The first six possessions (against Los Angeles) we had four turnovers and two dropped passes," said 49er offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren. "We didn't play our normal game. The Rams had something to do with it. We had something to do with it."
The "something" the 49ers contributed was not pretty. They turned the football over six times - more times than in any other game since their season-opener in 1985 - and saw their record-tying 18-game winning streak snapped.
The Giants, meanwhile, were being beaten by the Philadelphia Eagles, deflating the Monday night hype balloon slightly. But, as far as 49er Coach George Seifert is concerned, the losses added pressure to the game because neither of these teams wants to have to tolerate losing two in a row.
There is only one thing Monday night's game will actually accomplish - it will give the winner a big edge in the race for the right to play at home should the Giants and the 49ers meet in the playoffs, most likely in the NFC championship game. And Seifert refuses to give that angle any significance.
"Really, I don't look at (the game) as that," Seifert said. "It's a game we have to win first to win our division.
"There are too many other games (left to play). Right now, I'm not concerned with home-field advantage, to be honest with you."
Actually, the 49ers clinched their fifth consecutive NFC West title Sunday when the New Orleans Saints lost to the Dallas Cowboys 17-13.
For the Giants, however, a victory over San Francisco will be the final stamp of legitimacy on their climb up alongside the 49ers into a co-billing as this year's most dominant team. The Giants have clinched at least a wild-card playoff berth.
"There is a cohesiveness here that probably doesn't exist on very many ballclubs around the league," said Gaint safety Dave Duerson. "The only other one that comes to mind right now is San Francisco, and that may not be a coincidence."
The Giants are trying to get back to the Super Bowl for the first time since they capped their 1986 season with a Super Bowl victory. Although they have not won a playoff game since Super Bowl XXI, the Giants may be a better team this year than they were four years ago.