SAN FRANCISCO (CBS/AP) — Ted Ginn Jr. could only watch the NFC championship with a bum knee, seeing Mario Manningham catch a key touchdown pass for the New York Giants and his replacement punt returner for San Francisco botch two returns that ultimately led to the 49ers’ loss.
After testing out free agency, Ginn is back for another season in San Francisco and ready to take back his role as returner. He gets to play with Manningham, too.
The 49ers signed Ginn to a one-year deal Thursday hours after officially announcing the addition of Manningham with a two-year contract. The team later announced it signed quarterback Josh Johnson to a two-year deal to back up Alex Smith.
Ginn visited Detroit, Minnesota and Baltimore before staying with a 49ers team that has already added Manningham and Randy Moss to a thin receiving corps. With those two newcomers, along with Michael Crabtree back, Ginn might not get a whole lot more chances to catch the ball this year.
“I was happy with my role,” he said. “When you’re playing a game like this, you have to be a team player. That’s what I am first. Everybody wishes they could get a ball or two more. That’s being a human being.”
Ginn had 19 catches for 220 yards last season and just 31 in two years with San Francisco when his biggest contributions came as a returner.
He averaged 23.6 yards per kick return and 12.7 on punt returns with three total touchdowns. His absence was felt during the NFC championship game when Kyle Williams’ muff set up Manningham’s go-ahead touchdown catch in the fourth quarter and his overtime fumble led to the field goal that sent the Giants to the Super Bowl with a 20-17 win.
It all provided a crushing end to what had been a spectacular season for the 49ers.
“Everybody said it’s Kyle’s fault. But that’s not right. It’s a team game,” Ginn said. “I talked to him that day. I tried to tell him to keep his head up and stay positive.”
Williams and Ginn are part of a much-improved group of receivers from the unit last season that had only player, Crabtree, catch more than 20 passes in the regular season.
Manningham agreed to the deal last Saturday when the 49ers were in the thick of the race to sign Peyton Manning, the four-time NFL MVP and older brother of Manningham’s former quarterback with the Giants — two-time Super Bowl winner Eli Manning.
Manning ended up signing with Denver and the Niners brought back Smith.
“I wanted to go there and I knew that Peyton Manning was going to go somewhere. I thought he was coming to the 49ers but he didn’t,” Manningham said. “He went to Denver. Good luck to him with that. I wish the best for him. We got Alex Smith and I know he’s a great player.
“I knew (playing with Manning) was a possibility but I wasn’t picking them because of that. I know Peyton Manning is a great quarterback and everything but if you don’t have a good defense … offense can be potent but there’s really no point.”
The 49ers’ defense was one of the best last season and played a big part in the team’s 13-3 record and trip to the NFC title game.
Manningham has 160 catches for 2,315 yards and 18 touchdowns in his four-year career after being drafted out of Michigan in the third round in 2008. He was limited to 12 games last year because of injuries and had only 39 catches for 523 yards and four scores in his least productive season since his rookie year.
“We are very pleased to add a player like Mario to our team,” general manager Trent Baalke said. “Although it is still early in his NFL career, he is a productive wide receiver with a lot of big game experience. He will be a nice complement to our current wide receiver group and a good fit for our offensive system.”
Manningham took off in the postseason, catching TD passes in wins over Atlanta and Green Bay to get New York to the NFC title game. He then had a go-ahead 17-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter of the NFC championship game and capped the postseason with a memorable catch.
His over-the-shoulder 38-yard catch between two defenders, on which he managed to stay inbounds and hold onto the ball despite being hit, started the game-winning, 88-yard touchdown drive for the Giants.
But despite that, New York showed little interest in keeping Manningham, who ultimately picked San Francisco over St. Louis.
“That’s the business part about this system, about football. I would have wanted to come back to the team that I started with. I won a Super Bowl with those guys,” he said. “This is my new team now.”
Having played the Niners in both the regular season and playoffs this past season, Manningham knows how good San Francisco is on defense.
The 49ers led the league in run defense and forced turnovers, and were second in scoring defense. That entire starting unit is expected back in 2012 with cornerback Carlos Rogers and linebacker Ahmad Brooks re-signing, and safety Dashon Goldson getting the franchise tag.
“They swarm, they’ll hit you and they’ll cover you,” Manningham said. “I feel like they have the best linebacking corps in the league. They have athletic defensive backs, D-line, they’re all really good. It’s a great defense out there.”
Johnson, who played for Niners coach Jim Harbaugh in college at San Diego, started five games in four seasons with Tampa Bay. He completed 96 of 177 passes for 1,042 yards, five touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 26 career appearances.
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