Return to the Scene of the Fumble: Did the Giants Target Kyle Williams in the 2012 NFC Championship Game?October 13, 2012
The San Francisco 49ers were arguably the NFL’s biggest surprise last season, going 13-3 during the regular season and hosting the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game. After adopting the fiery spirit of head coach Jim Harbaugh, many expected the hard-hitting Niners to make their first Super Bowl appearance since the Steve Young and Jerry Rice days, and it seemed like a strong possibility after their defense stopped Eli Manning twice during overtime. Second year wide receiver Kyle Williams, who was filling in as a punt returner for the injured Ted Ginn Jr., was stripped of the ball and the Giants recovered it at the 49ers 24-yard line. A Lawrence Tynes field goal gave the Giants a 20-17 victory and set them up for a Super Bowl XLII rematch with the New England Patriots. It was the second punt Williams fumbled that day—the first set up a go-ahead Giants touchdown in the fourth quarter. It was Roger Craig ’91 all over again for the 49ers, and Williams was devastated, convinced that he had cost his team a trip to the Super Bowl. It makes perfect sense that the Giants targeted Williams because he was an inexperienced stand-in who had already fumbled once, but were they after him because of his problems with concussions? With a rematch between the two teams on schedule for tomorrow afternoon, let’s think about this one for a second.
Concussions have been a source of concern in the NFL for some time now. They ended the careers of future Hall of Famers like Troy Aikman and Steve Young, but have become a bigger issue over the past five seasons. As a result, the NFL has taken several precautions to protect players, possibly even going too far to protect them from head injuries. The Giants head-hunting didn’t force Williams to fumble twice, but defenders Jacquian Williams (who forced the final fumble) and Devin Thomas (who recovered both fumbles) admitted to gunning for Kyle Williams because of past concussions. Williams said their goal was to “take him outta the game” because he had four concussions, and Thomas added that the team agreed to “put a hit” on him because of his concussions, even saying that the Giants did a good job of hitting Williams early because “he looked kind of dazed when he got up.” Though Justin Tuck said that he didn’t think the team made it a point to put Williams out of the game, Jacquian Williams and Devin Thomas said enough, if not too much.
This illustrates how, despite all of the extra measures the NFL has taken to change behavior and protect players, little has changed. Especially in the wake of Bounty Gate. So, to answer the question, it sure as hell sounds like the Giants were targeting Kyle Williams. As we’ve already established, this had nothing to do with his fumbles, because it’s still his responsibility to hold on to the football. This does show how far players will go with a huge game on the line, and you’d better believe that this happens regularly, and will continue. There’s no way Kyle Williams or the rest of the Niners have forgotten about this, so that gives tomorrow’s rematch another layer of drama and incentive to player harder. Expect both teams to hit hard, but look for the Niners to be extra physical, just off of principle.