Continued from page 1

If he isn’t at his best, it will be because of Lewis, Reed and that staunch Baltimore D. The Ravens are as physical as anyone, and one thing that historically has slowed Brady has been when a defense gets in his face, disrupts his rhythm _ and hits him. Many times.

“It’s more important that we stop their whole offense,” said Reed, whom Belichick called the greatest safety he has faced during his coaching career. “We can’t focus on one particular player, because Brady doesn’t. Brady throws it to everybody. I’ve been saying that all week. He’ll throw it to an offensive lineman. We’re looking at everybody that’s eligible that’s going out on a route and not going out on a route. We’re paying attention to everybody. Everybody has a responsibility. They have 11 guys on the field. We have 11 guys on the field. Everybody has to do their responsibility.”

The 11 guys on each side of the ball at Candlestick Park for the NFC championship game will carry on a tradition of notable meetings that dates back to when the 49ers (14-3) and Giants (11-7) were dominating the conference in the 1980s. Their only faceoff in the title game was in January 1991, when New York kicked five field goals for a 15-13 victory, preventing San Francisco from going after a third straight Super Bowl trophy.

While it’s fun to conjure up memories of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, Lawrence Taylor and Matt Bahr, this year’s participants are more concerned with adding to a winning legacy. This is the 49ers' first playoff appearance since the 2002 season, when they won a wild 39-38 wild-card game against the Giants. New York, of course, won it all four years ago.

“Winning is what it’s all about and it definitely makes coming to work a lot better than hearing, Who’s going to be your new head coach or defensive coordinator?’ All-Pro defensive tackle Justin Smith said. “I’ll take this over the other for sure.”

No worries on the coaching front after Jim Harbaugh made his first year in charge one of the most successful for any rookie coach. Harbaugh doesn’t have much of a feel for Giants-49ers, though; he didn’t play for either team.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who was on the 1990 championship staff, knows all about it.

“I have thought about that and we will talk about some of the things that occurred there,” Coughlin said, “but only from the standpoint of the history and the tradition and what a great event that was at that particular time. That was a long time ago and I think some of our players, because they are historians, will know a little about that game and the great players that played in that game.”

More appropriate, perhaps, is the 27-20 win by the 49ers in November, a game decided only when Smith blocked Eli Manning’s last-minute pass deep in San Francisco territory. It was the latest installment of a grand rivalry.

Until Sunday.