SAN FRANCISCO -- Take nothing away from the 49ers, 7-3 victors last night against the New York Giants. But for every heap of praise, say a kind word for Bill Parcells.
The Giants' coach helped, after all.
Parcells was not subjected to the usual amount of second-guessing, and that speaks to the respect he has earned from the national media. Parcells has been on the job for eight years. He is a good coach. But, make no mistake, this was not a good night for him.
The most obvious of his "crimes" was passing up a field goal that would have made the score 7-6 with four minutes to play.
But there were others, plenty more. The Giants' play-calling was suspect on both drives that stalled inside the San Francisco 10. Another time, on a third-and-three near midfield in the fourth quarter, they ran up the middle -- and got nothing.
With time running out, the Giants gave the 49ers an extra play by accepting a holding penalty on third down. Had the Giants declined, the 49ers would have been punting with 1 minute, 35 seconds to play. Instead, they punted with 0:47 showing -- 48 seconds later.
By then, the Giants needed to score a touchdown. They might have needed only a field goal but for Parcells' earlier decision. Trailing 7-3 and facing a fourth-and-goal from the 9 with 3:55 to play, Parcells went for broke.
"I didn't know if we would get the ball back," he explained later. "Even with the defense playing well, you're not 100 percent sure with an offense like San Francisco's that you're going to get another chance. . . We took our shot when we had it."
Asked if he wasn't playing exceptionally long odds from 9 yards out, Parcells answered: "Yeah. But I didn't know I was going to get another chance, did you?"
It was a gutty decision -- bold, the call of a man's man. And thus, in this man's game, it was not surprising the reaction Parcells' call drew in both locker rooms. He was understood, certainly. Frequently, he was praised.
The 49ers were not surprised, that's for sure. Matt Millen said he "expected" the Giants to go for it. Pierce Holt used the same word, adding that it was a "do-or-die situation."
Coach George Seifert stood behind Parcells, but not as he did earlier this season for Jim Mora when the New Orleans coach bungled. Not as a member of the fraternity, but because he genuinely seemed to believe that Parcells had done right.
About the only party who didn't seem entirely thrilled with the decision was Phil Simms, the Giants' quarterback.
Asked if a quarterback appreciates that kind of opportunity, Simms said, "Sometimes -- when it works. . . I think he thought we might not get another chance, so he wanted to get us ahead and make them come to us. Things didn't work out that way."
Things didn't work out that way because Niners cornerback Darryl Pollard stuck up a hand and deflected the fourth-down pass to Lionel Manuel. Things didn't work out, in the greater sense, maybe because the Giants threw four straight passes into the end zone. That's odd strategy if you know you'll be going for broke on fourth down.
But Parcells had no regrets. Not even when the clock showed 0:03 and his team was on the S.F. 27. They had one last snap. It could have been for a 44-yard field goal -- to win it! Instead, Simms was scrambling, trying to pass deep, hoping for a touchdown. Getting sacked.
"Think about it a little bit," Parcells said, snapping for the first time.
If the Giants kick the field goal, he said, they kick off and the 49ers aren't stuck deep in their territory. Thus, the 49ers don't punt from their end zone. Thus, the Giants aren't on the 27 when the game ends.
"The whole field position changes if we kick the field goal," he said, "so think a little before you make a statement like that."
But think about this: You kick the field goal to trail 7-6. Your defense holds, the 49ers punt. When you've got a punt returner like Dave Meggett -- and a punter like Barry Helton -- the chances of getting into field-goal position again look better than the chances of scoring on fourth-and-nine.
"Give Bill credit," said running back Ottis Anderson. "That showed a lot of courage, a lot of poise. At that point, you're either going to win or lose down there. You got to give him credit there. He didn't play it safe. He didn't wimp out. He went for the win."
It was a man's call. Often the weasel wins.