By JANIE McCAULEY
SAN FRANCISCO — Alex Smith, Carlos Rogers and Kyle Williams acknowledge what some of their other San Francisco teammates might not: today’s rematch (10:25 a.m. HST, Fox) with the New York Giants absolutely means a little more to the 49ers.
The Giants ended San Francisco’s season in frustrating fashion nearly 10 months ago — with a Super Bowl berth on the line.
Many 49ers players stewed for months about that near-miss in the NFC title game, a sting that only became worse when Eli Manning and the Giants went on to win another championship.
As much as the NFC West champion Niners (4-1) are attempting to downplay the Giants’ return to Candlestick Park on today for a hyped-up October showdown, Rogers knows there’s still plenty of fuel all these months later.
The 49ers lost 20-17 in overtime, and still feel they gave it away.
Williams became Bay Area enemy No. 1 after fumbling not once but twice in crunch time.
“You say that it’s just another game, but this is the team that knocked us out from going to the show,” Rogers said. “There’s just going to be a little more from each player to try to win this game against those guys. They’re the champions. No matter what, if they didn’t knock us out in that game, they’re the defending champions. We want to perform against those guys just because of that.”
Fill-in Williams, playing in place of the injured Ted Ginn Jr., fumbled a punt in overtime that set up Lawrence Tynes’ winning field goal.
Williams also fumbled with 11:06 left in regulation. The Giants won a challenge that the ball touched Williams’ right knee and Devin Thomas made the first of his two recoveries on Williams’ fumbles. That gave the Giants the ball at the 29 and Manning then threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Mario Manningham .
Williams’ awful day ignited a barrage of hateful, hurtful, even threatening comments directed at him via Twitter. Teammates such as kicker David Akers made their own public posts asking people to quit with the harsh comments toward the then-second-year pro and son of Chicago White Sox general manager Ken Williams.
“You’re talking about a year ago. It seems like a long time ago,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “It was a great football game, and really a defensive struggle. We had weather, we had all kinds of things, wind. For us, the contribution of special teams to allow us to have an opportunity was probably what I remember more than anything else.”
Afterward, New York’s Jacquian Williams and Thomas indicated they were trying to hit Kyle Williams given his history of concussions, including one sustained Dec. 24 at Seattle that kept him out of the 49ers’ regular-season finale at St. Louis. The NFL later found that the Giants had not broken any rules.
Much has changed since Jan. 22, however.
Now, Manningham and Brandon Jacobs are playing out West with the 49ers, though Jacobs (knee) has yet to see the field. Coach Jim Harbaugh and San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke immediately went to work upgrading their offense after the receivers managed just one catch for 3 yards against the Giants.
Manningham said when he speaks to his Giants pals: “We joke around about the game, about what we’re going to do to them and what they’re going to do to us. That’s friendly competition. But believe me, they’re going to be ready to play. I know what type of game these guys play on Sundays. I know they get started and I know how they go. Believe me, when they come in here, they’re going to be ready to play.”
Harbaugh sees no need to bring up the NFC title game, though he has called the Giants a “cruel” team. San Francisco’s preparation and focus since a Week 3 loss at Minnesota has been spot on, and the 49ers are coming off a record-setting day on their home field in a 45-3 rout of the Bills. That came on the heels of a 34-0 road thumping of the Jets.
“It’s new business to me,” Harbaugh said.
This is a matchup of the league’s two most efficient scoring teams. Manning has thrown for at least 200 yards in 24 straight games, the second-longest streak ever, while Smith is coming off the best game statistically in his eight-year career.
Against Buffalo, San Francisco amassed 621 yards and became the first team in NFL history with 300 yards rushing and 300 yards passing in the same game.
These teams have become cross-country NFC rivals after playing two thrilling games in as many months last season.
Manning was denied a comeback win at Candlestick last November when Justin Smith batted down his pass in the closing seconds before San Francisco stopped the Giants on fourth down for the win. That victory helped the Niners improve to 8-1 on the way to earning a first-round bye.
Manning completed an 18-yard pass to Manningham on fourth-and-6 and then a 10-yarder to Cruz on fourth-and-5 on the last-ditch drive. Manning just overthrew Manningham in the end zone with 2:52 left.
“He’s a magician,” Harbaugh said of Manning, “That’s what he is — 10 out of 10 in terms of respect.”
And the 49ers defenders planned to use any advantage they could find this week on how to stymie Manning, like gathering info on his tendencies from Jacobs and Manningham.
“They’re motivated to beat us,” Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. “I know they’ve got a chip on their shoulders. After all, we did beat them in the conference championship game and we’re going to go back there and they’re going to give us their all. We’re going to be ready for it and this is going to be a fight.”
He doesn’t have to tell the 49ers that.
“We lost the game, it wasn’t our time, they beat us,” tight end Vernon Davis said. “There’s a bitter taste in our mouth. That game, it hurt. We’re still thinking about it a little bit, but we can’t jump out of our skin. We have to continue to stay focused.”
AP Sports Writers Josh Dubow and Tom Canavan contributed to this story.