Joe Staley and Anthony Davis, the 49ers' starting offensive tackles, huddled at Staley's home Sunday to see if their NFC title game foe would be the Giants or the favored Packers.
It turned out to be the Giants, but not exactly the same team that lost 27-20 on Nov. 13 at Candlestick Park.
"They're playing at a much higher level," Staley said Monday. "Especially these last four or five games, they've done an outstanding job. And we (have) too, you know?"
Sunday's NFC final at Candlestick still will pit a pass-happy Giants team against a defensive-dominant 49ers squad, as was the case two months ago. But the Giants' defense and QB Eli Manning have made red-hot strides. The Packers committed four turnovers in Sunday's 37-20 defeat. Manning threw three touchdowns for a third straight game.
"Eli's not throwing many interceptions," said 49ers CB Tarell Brown, who had one of San Francisco's two interceptions against Drew Brees in Saturday's 36-32 division win over New Orleans.
Manning had nine touchdown passes, one interception and 953 yards as the Giants won three straight elimination games: 31-14 over Dallas to clinch the East, 24-2 over Atlanta in the wild-card round and Sunday's dethroning of Green Bay.
Manning had two passes intercepted in the Nov. 13 loss. His 40th attempt was knocked down by DL Justin Smith's right hand on fourth down with 34 seconds left.
"We went down there earlier this year and we didn't get it done, we fell short," Giants WR Mario Manningham said. "But I think we're going to go back and watch what we did wrong and just come back and do the right things."
And the 49ers can still hear their fans' cheers from TE Vernon Davis' touchdown catch in the final seconds on Saturday as well as QB Alex Smith's earlier go-ahead TD run.
"Our fans turned that stadium into a fortress," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "That was as good as it can get."
SPOTLIGHT TIME: Tom Brady's sensational season, with the second-most yards passing in NFL history behind Drew Brees' record pace this year, was somewhat overshadowed. First Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, then the Saints' Brees — even Denver's Tim Tebow — got more headlines than the Patriots star.
But Brady took center stage against the Broncos in the division round with a playoff-record tying six touchdown passes in a 45-10 victory.
And Brady will be the focus again Sunday against Baltimore in the AFC title game.
"We know we have a big test next week," Ravens star LB Ray Lewis said. "Tom is playing excellent up there, and what they did to the Broncos … I think they sent a message to whoever was coming up there."
ODDS AND ENDS: This is the eighth time since 1982 that the Giants and 49ers are meeting in the playoffs, the sixth at Candlestick. The only other NFC title game meeting was in the 1990 season, when New York won 15-13 in San Francisco on their way to winning Super Bowl XXV in Tampa. … Ravens All-Pro S Ed Reed limped off at the end of Sunday's game against Houston after he landed awkwardly on his left ankle. Monday, coach John Harbaugh provided a positive update. "Ed looks like he's all right with the ankle," Harbaugh said. "Everything's come up okay as far as the X-rays."