Former New York radio guys Brandon Tierney and Jason Barrett now work in San Francisco, and the pair offered their thoughts on Sunday’s NFC title game between the Giants and Niners. Here is a weblink to Saturday morning’s story.
Here are some insights that didn’t make the print editions:
What turned the Niners around after so many lackluster seasons?
Brandon Tierney: The division has been so average. The Niners have a star running back in Frank Gore. There have been important pieces in place. For whatever reason they needed a different coach, a different voice. Jim Harbaugh has brought that. He’s brought an enthusiasm but also a level of preparedness, for sure. He expects this.
What about Alex Smith’s transition from also-ran to winning quarterback?
Brandon Tierney: The thing about Alex Smith … he’s very smart and he’s very tough. He gets his brains beaten in for six years. If you really want to look into Alex’s football soul and find out what kind of person he is, more than a football player, is the fact he wanted to come back here when not a single fan wanted him back. It speaks about the mental fortitude and toughness. He respects the game of football and deep down, at a lot of levels, he knows he was stealing money here for years and he wanted to rectify it. He could have gone somewhere else, put on a baseball cap and hide as a backup.
What do you think about Eli Manning?
Brandon Tierney: Eli Manning is great. Watching eight different teams roll in here (to Oakland and San Francisco) – the Browns and McCoy, the Cardinals with Cobb, the Jets and Sanchez – you see the other quarterbacks in the NFL and you really appreciate how terrific Eli is.
He makes every throw. He gets hit, he gets up. He’s a terrific leader and he’s smart. He’s at his best when the pressure is up. When most people’s heart rate goes up because the moment is intense, he’s able to slow it down. Psychologically that’s what separates the good ones from the great ones.
Think about it. First of all, he throws for four bills (400 yards) against the cowboys in Dallas in a huge game. Then with the postseason on the line, the throws for three touchdowns and 300 yards. I mean, what else do you want? The other thing he doesn’t get credit for, he’s so adept at feeling pressure, stepping up in the pocket and making the play … he gives the receivers an extra second to get open.
What are your game keys?
Jason Barrett: The biggest keys for the Giants to win the game will come down to Eli (Manning) playing another elite game, the Giants pass rush rattling Alex Smith and the Giants receiving corps outperforming the Niners secondary. If you look to last week’s game against New Orleans, the 49ers secondary did a great job minimizing the Saints passing attack – most plays came from check downs to Sproles and 1-2 perfect passes by (Drew) Brees to Graham & Colston. They will focus on making sure Nicks, Cruz and Manningham don’t have career moments.
I also think it’s vital for JPP (Jason Pierre-Paul), Osi (Umenyiora), (Justin) Tuck and the rest of the Giants front line to cause havoc and win the war in the trenches. If they pressure and hit Alex Smith and put him into some situations where he makes mistakes, that can be the area where Big Blue breaks through. If though they don’t get pressure, it could equally be a problem for the G-Men because the 49ers don’t make a lot of mistakes and they play smart fundamental football.
What is the fan perception of the Niners in the Bay Area?
Jason Barrett: The local fans truly love this football team. Coach Jim Harbaugh’s chant of “Who’s Got Better Than Us? Nobody!” has become a rallying cry and people believe in this team despite what the national pundits think. You’ll see Red and Gold everywhere and the only differences I see between the two markets are that New York is a lot more intense and vocal about their feelings of the team but just because you’re louder doesn’t mean you possess more passion and love for your team. Remember this, San Francisco is a city which is used to great football with Montana, Rice, Young, Walsh, Craig, etc. They expect greatness and they want to win.
While people locally may have been surprised at how fast this team reached this point under Harbaugh, they are now fully on board and they believe they will knock off New York. Giants fans, on the other hand, are very similar in that they expect great effort, great players and anything less than a championship is not enough. They waver each year on Tom Coughlin, they now view Eli Manning as elite after taking a wait-and-see approach with him. Now that the team is healthy and coming together, they see Big Blue leaving Indianapolis with another championship.