Coming off of a lackluster 30-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers, the Atlanta Falcons entered Sunday's game with more questions than answers. The Giants game was seen as kind of a defining moment in the Falcons season as the Falcons entered with an 11-2 record but without much respect from the outside.
The NFL is a funny animal. One week one team can look like world beaters (the Giants crushing the Saints 52-27) and another can look like bums (the Falcons losing to the Panthers) but everything can flip on it's axis is just one week. In the Panthers game last week, it was Carolina that came out and dominated early. In this game, the Falcons were determined to get out to a good start and they did just that.
The Giants got the ball first but Asante Samuel, who was banged up last week, jumped a route on the second play of the game and picked off Eli Manning. The Falcons used a short field to just run the ball down the Giants throat as they scored after four straight running plays by Michael Turner.
After the Giants worked their way down the field on their second drive, the Falcons defense held and Lawrence Tynes missed a 30 yard field goal (this was a sign that it might not be the Giants day). The Falcons took over on their 20 yard line and moved the ball the length of the field with Matt Ryan hitting Tony Gonzalez on a picture perfect 12 yard TD pass to wrap up the drive and give the Falcons a 14-0 first quarter lead.
The Giants got the ball back down two touchdowns early in the game and needed to make a move but instead it was the Falcons defense that came through as Kroy Bierman got to Eli Manning for a sack on 3rd and 7 (the Giants would go 4 for 10 on third down while the Falcons were 9 of 13). The Giants defense held serve and in what would be a key point in the game, Thomas DeCoud intercepted Eli Manning to give the ball back to the Falcons and the Falcons were able to add a FG to their lead.
On the next drive the Falcons stopped the Giants short on 4th and 1 on the Atlanta 32 but the Giants came right back down the field with time expiring in the half. On a 3rd and 1, former Georgia Bulldogs RB Kregg Lumpkin took a hand-off and looked like he had the corner but Sean Weatherspoon fought off a block and beat him to the spot to stop him short. For the second straight drive, the Giants went for it on 4th down and this time it was Asante Samuel making the play as Victor Cruz couldn't make a catch with Samuel on his back.
The Giants had their opportunities in the first half but they missed a FG and were denied on two 4th down tries. The Falcons took a 17-0 lead into half with the defense coming up with big plays when they needed to and also giving the offense a short field to work with which resulted in 10 of the Falcons 17 points.
The Falcons got the ball first in the second half and did what great teams do, go for the throat. On a key third and seven play, Osi Umenyiora beat Sam Baker but Jacquizz Rodgers was able to help out and push him behind Ryan. Ryan stepped up into the pocket and hit Harry Douglas coming across the middle for a big third down conversion. Sometimes it's the little things and that was a little thing that turned out to be a big play for the Falcons. After a first down pass to Julio Jones, Jones was again targeted and this time for a much bigger play. Julio Jones beat rookie Jayron Hosley deep and Matt Ryan hit Jones (for his first TD at home) for a 40 yard TD and gave the Falcons a 24-0 lead.
From that point in the game, the Falcons played keep away from the Giants with drives of 6:43 (resulting in a FG), 9:14 (ending with a 3 yard Julio Jones TD reception) and 4:06 to end the game.
The Falcons played their most complete game of the season as the defense led the way with key stops and takeaways and the offense did their job by getting into the end zone and sustaining drives. This was a great way for the Falcons to gain momentum as they continue to get closer to "winning time". The Falcons won't be able to truly answer their critics until the playoffs start but this was a great first step.