New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning took some brutal hits in the NFC Championship game – far more than he's accustomed to. In fact, there's now a relatively iconic image of him calling for a timeout after being drilled into the grass, his facemask askew. It was a moment the world woke up and realized "wow! this guy is tough."
As it turns out however, Manning was likely the target of an unspoken understanding by the San Francisco 49ers daunting defense that he was the mouse that made the wheel spin, and in order to stop the well-oiled Giants offensive machine, he needed to be knocked out of the game.
“We need to take him out," cornerback Carlos Rodgers said.
That message was understood by all members of the 49ers defense, and wasn't something that needed to be vocalized. However, was there actually a bounty placed on Manning's head? Rodgers stopped short of saying that specifically.
“[The payment system is] competition in the [meeting] room … once the ball is snapped you’re not thinking about it,” he said.
Rodgers went on to say the word "bounty" overstates the situation, but added that the bounty system was in place in D.C. when he played under then defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Williams, of course, having recently been suspended by the NFL for a bounty system he used while with the New Orleans Saints.
“It went on to guys just suggesting stuff in a room,” Rogers said. “If you knock this person out, let’s say a receiver, he comes across the middle. Safety knocks him out, a legal hit, you get this amount of money.”
This doesn't necessarily mean there ever was a bounty placed on the head of Eli Manning, but it does show that the 49ers defense aimed to knock him out of the game. The question then becomes: where is the line drawn?
It's common nature in competitive sports to target the best players on the opposing team, and while athletes don't generally try to maim each other, they do try to break the strongest link. In the case of the New York Giants, that was obviously Eli Manning. And the 49ers obviously tried to knock him out of the game.
But Big Blue isn't so innocent themselves. Shortly after defeating the 49ers and advancing to Super Bowl XLVI, linebacker Jacquian Williams and wide receiver Devin Thomas acknowledged targeting San Francisco wide receiver Kyle Williams, who they knew had a history of concussions.
"The thing is, we knew he had four concussions, so that was our biggest thing, was to take him out of the game," said Jacquian Williams.
Neither Manning or Williams were knocked out of the game, but both sustained some pretty big hits. And, in the end, Williams dropped the ball while Manning went on to the Super Bowl.
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