SAN FRANCISCO (Ticker) --
enjoyed his signature game, leading the San Francisco 49ers to the second-biggest comeback in playoff history.
Garcia accounted for 391 yards and four touchdowns as the 49ers erased a 24-point second-half deficit and posted a stunning 39-38 victory over the
New York Giants
in an NFC wild card game.
"When you're down 38-14, it's easy to throw in the towel, unless you're a 49er," Niners coach Steve Mariucci said.
After deciding to go with a no-huddle offense, the Niners scored the game's last 25 points in the final 17 minutes. Garcia capped the comeback with a 13-yard scoring pass to
with one minute left.
"It's just hard to fathom right now. I can't even grasp my emotions," Garcia said. "To play a game like that and put your heart and soul on the field, it leaves you a little zapped afterward, but it's probably the most exciting feeling I've felt in a long time."
Despite blowing a 38-14 lead, the Giants had a chance to win the game when rookie
lined up for a 41-yard field goal on third down with six seconds left.
Bryant, who badly missed a 42-yarder with 3:01 left, never got a chance at redemption due to a bad snap by recently signed veteran
and a mental error by holder
Instead of spiking the ball to stop the clock and give his team another chance, Allen threw a pass, and the Giants were penalized for having an ineligible receiver downfield.
After the referee signaled the penalty on New York, the Niners started a wild celebration on the field while most of the Giants stalked off into the locker room.
"It's just about as bad a loss as any I had in my life," Giants coach Jim Fassel said. "It's just tragic. I'm not getting over this for a while. We have not played well with a lead at times this year and we were tentative in the second half. But in the end what bit us was what I feared since the start of the season - a snap, kick and a hold."
The only bigger comeback in the postseason was engineered by the
, who erased a 32-point deficit in a 41-38 overtime victory over the Houston Oilers in a 1992 AFC wild card game.
San Francisco (11-6) will play at Tampa Bay next weekend in the divisional playoffs.
passed for 342 yards and four touchdowns - all in the first half - for the Giants (10-7).
caught three of the scoring passes and finished with eight receptions for 136 yards.
But both took a back seat to Garcia and
, San Francisco's Pro Bowlers. Garcia completed 27-of-44 passes for 331 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 60 yards and another score. Owens caught nine passes for 177 yards, including touchdowns of 76 and 26 yards.
"We had them on their heels," said Owens, who took advantage of nickel back
numerous times in the second half. "Garcia makes things happen with his feet and he helps us out in a number of situations. He's the ultimate competitor."
Owens' signature postseason game was in 1998, when he caught the winning 25-yard TD pass from
with three seconds left in a 30-27 wild card victory over Green Bay.
Following famous quarterbacks Joe Montana and Young in San Francisco, Garcia made Sunday his signature game, flawlessly orchestrating the no-huddle offense after the Niners fell behind by 24 points.
"We went into the two-minute offense, our no-huddle offense very early, and because we had some success with it, we stayed with it," Mariucci said. "They don't substitute defensive linemen very often, so part of the plan was to wear them down."
And it did appear to wear the Giants down. Many of them appeared tired and could not keep up with Garcia when the quarterback decided to run through the gaps.
"It's a four-quarter game and we didn't play for four quarters," said Giants defensive end
, who was unable to mount a pass rush. "When they went to the hurry-up offense, we didn't play very well."
Garcia started the comeback with a 26-yard touchdown to Owens with 2:03 left in the third quarter. He also scored on a 14-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter, twice hit Owens with two-point conversions, and capped the rally with his scoring pass to Streets.
The Giants were clinging to a 38-33 lead when Garcia looked off Owens, moved up in the pocket and fired a 13-yard touchdown to Streets with a minute left.
"They doubled on (J.J.) Stokes, they doubled on T.O. (Owens) over the middle and Tai became the 1-on-1 guy," Garcia said. "Tai just found a way to get underneath the corner."
The two-point conversion was caught in the end zone by Giants cornerback
, who attempted to run - although rules prohibit him from doing so - he was knocked out of bounds by Owens.
As Owens was penalized for a personal foul, Giants safety
hit 49ers center
on the sideline, was whistled for a personal foul and ejected.
Despite the monumental collapse, the Giants had a chance to win when
returned the ensuing kickoff 33 yards to the New York 48. With the defense keying on Toomer and Giants Pro Bowl tight end
, Collins hit
twice for 29 yards.
After calling a timeout with 15 seconds left at the 28, Collins threw a pass that was nearly intercepted, then hit Toomer with a five-yard pass with six seconds left.
That left it up to the kicking unit. The 41-year-old Junkin put in his retirement papers last month, but was signed by the Giants last week to replace injured Dan O'Leary. However, despite a long career as a snapper, Junkin will be remembered for his last one - a low and away snap that didn't give Allen a chance to set it up for Bryant.
"I cost this team a chance to go to the Super Bowl," Junkin said. "This is something I've done for 32 years, but not anymore."
"It's very frustrating, I can't even tell you how frustrating," Bryant said. "I've gone through five or six snappers and two holders. It's been strange this year."
, who rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown and caught five passes for 62 yards for the Giants, also expressed his frustration with the kicking game.
"I want to bite my tongue on this, but in the end special teams bit us in the butt," said Barber, who blew a kiss to the crowd after scoring on a six-yard run that gave the Giants a 35-14 lead 5:07 into the third quarter.
The Giants won their last four games to make the playoffs, and dominated the first 2 1/2 quarters.
In the first half, New York held the ball for more than 19 minutes as Collins threw touchdown passes of 12, 8 and 24 yards to Toomer and connected with Shockey on a two-yard scoring play. Toomer victimized cornerback
on all three of his touchdowns, helping the Giants build a 28-14 halftime advantage.
Shockey also made his presence felt, taunting the 49ers' sideline after his second reception and throwing ice water in the direction of heckling fans. He finished with seven catches for 68 yards.
Owens turned a short pass into a 76-yard touchdown and
scored on a one-yard run in the first half for the 49ers.
Barber's touchdown run and a 21-yard field goal by Bryant in the third quarter increased the lead to 38-14.