New York defensive coordinator Bill Belichick gets a rare second chance Sunday when the Giants travel to Candlestick Park to take on the two-time defending champion San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game.
Belichick's strategies held the potent 49er offense in check on Dec. 3, yielding but a single touchdown in a 7-3 loss to San Francisco. This time, Belichick hopes his team's familiarity with the 49ers' tendencies will lead to a total shutdown."It's like a divisional game," Belichick said. "We've played them each of the last three (actually four) years and now twice this year," he said. "They know our personnel, we know their system. Sometimes it's a plus, but sometimes you can't stop them."
Belichick also has studied films of what the Los Angeles Rams did to befuddle the 49ers in a 28-17 victory earlier this year. But his viewings were used to gather information, not for planning to mimic the Rams' "big nickel" strategy.
"Just because someone else did it, maybe they had different resources," he said. "We've certainly viewed a lot of film. You've got to look at what you have available on your team and do what you think is best."
The 49ers may also throw a new wrinkle or two Belichick's way.
"We went into that (Dec. 3) game with somewhat of a conservative attitude and the idea, 'Don't make any mistakes,"' 49ers Coach George Seifert said. "They are a very good team at capitalizing on mistakes and coming up with big plays defensively and controlling the ball. So we went into that game with a certain mindset. It may or may not be the same going into this game."
While both teams should be accustomed to each other, both will have wild cards. New York will start the mobile Jeff Hostetler at quarterback for the injured Phil Simms while the 49ers have added Mike Sherrard, a fleet-footed, sure-handed wide receiver. Sherrard missed the last game between the two clubs with a broken leg.
Hostetler has been a pleasant surprise for the Giants, who lost Simms because of an injured foot in their Dec. 15 loss to the Buffalo Bills. The seven-year veteran hit 10 of 17 passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 43 yards on six carries and another score in the 31-3 playoff triumph last week over the Chicago Bears.
"He's an impressive quarterback," Seifert said. "He gives them a different dimension as far as his ability to run the ball. They use him to attack the corners more. With a play-action pass, he can drop back and find a crease and he does a good job of running the ball up field."
Sherrard presents the Giants' defense with a third dangerous wide receiver to go along with Jerry Rice and John Taylor. The oft-injured Sherrard capitalized on the Washington Redskins' defensive ploy on Rice to catch an 8-yard touchdown pass in the 49ers 28-10 playoff win.
"With Mike in there, we have three wide receivers who are really hard to cover," said San Francisco tight end Jamie Williams. "He (Sherrard) could be one of the premier receivers in the NFL had it not been for the injuries (three broken legs). He's got speed and any ball that gets close to him is caught in a trap. His hands are like nets."
Because of the Crisis in the Gulf, security for Sunday's game was beefed up and the San Francisco Police Department has requested use of bomb-sniffing dogs from San Francisco International Airport and asked the FAA to restrict the air space over the facility.
"We've done things that would be prudent to improve our positions for both playoff games," said Charles Jackson, assistant security director for the NFL. "We are taking measures not normally taken."