American Football: Giants' sense of loss is overwhelming as Watters grasps play-off record: Taylor's illustrious career comes to ignominious end while Kelly leads Buffalo comeback to freeze out Raiders

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The Independent Online
A TOUGH day for the New York Giants ended with the sad, if predictable, news that Lawrence Taylor, arguably the greatest player to ever wear their uniform, would not be coming back. In the aftermath of a play-off thrashing in San Francisco the announcement of Taylor's retirement simply compounded the Giants' sense of loss.

They were crushed 44-3 by the 49ers who progress to the NFC Championship game next weekend where they will meet the Dallas Cowboys who beat the Green Bay Packers 27-17. The Buffalo Bills also remain in the Super Bowl hunt after their 29-23 defeat of the Los Angeles Raiders.

It was perhaps a shame that 34- year-old Taylor, whose defining skills at linebacker made him revered throughout the game, should sign off playing on a Giants defense in disarray. Under the guidance of their new head coach, Dan Reeves, the Giants had rediscovered much of their former dominance in this area, but were never able to contain a 49er attack that was unusually formidable on the ground. The Giants, who had surrendered just seven rushing touchdowns all season, yielded six to the 49ers, five to one man, Ricky Watters. His TD tally set a new NFL play-off record.

The 49ers were in control from the start, scoring on their first three possessions. Steve Young, the 49ers quarterback, was in impressive form completing 17 out of 22 passes for 226 yards. Phil Simms, the Giants quarterback, completed just 12 of his 25 passes and was twice intercepted.

Taylor, who leaves the game as the NFL's all-time sack leader with 132.5, made a dignified exit - 'the game is over, the season is over and now my career is over' - and it was left to Simms to pay tribute. 'I am going to tell my grandkids all the great things he could do on the football field,' Simms said.

Troy Aikman led by example as the Cowboys beat the Packers, throwing for 302 yards and three touchdowns. The Cowboys scored 10 points in the last 23 seconds of the second quarter and were never seriously threatened thereafter. Emmitt Smith rushed for 60 yards but was taken out of the game in the third quarter after reinjuring his shoulder. 'My shoulder is feeling fine,' he said afterwards, 'I will be able to play against the 49ers.'

The Raiders dominated the first half of the game at a freezing Rich Stadium, keeping the ball for 231 2 minutes, but could only establish a 17-13 lead at the interval. The Bills rallied impressively in the second half and a couple of touchdown passes from Jim Kelly to Bill Brooks settled the contest.