The New York Giants, who have had an iffy season, just did what most would not have thought possible only a few short weeks ago. They didn't only win their first playoff game at home in over a decade, they shut a very dangerous Atlanta Falcons offense out completely.
It was a battle of defensive wills in the first half. Each team tried to get their passing and running games going early on. But the result was nil until the final seven minutes of the first quarter. Matt Ryan of Atlanta picked up the tempo of the game by going to the no-huddle, with a moderate degree of success.
The Falcons began a 14-play drive that would be decided by Atlanta's ability to scratch and claw for one-single inch. On a fourth-and-one, at the Giants 24-yard line, Mike Smith made an executive decision to go for it.
That decision came back to haunt him. The New York defense, which had been playing extremely well up until that point, stacked the line, held the Falcons back from converting and forced the ball back into their own hands. Michael Boley and Linval Joseph were credited with the stop.
Smith's questionable fourth-down decision was not entirely without reward. The Giants, unable to get their offense going and capitalize on the opportunity, found themselves giving up two points on a safety in their end zone. Eli Manning was flushed out of the pocket by James Sanders. Manning, trying to avoid a sack/safety, threw the ball away but didn't throw far enough. Nor did he have a receiver in the area. The play resulted in the first two-points of the game. Atlanta 2-0.
The G-Men were able to contain the Falcons once again and force a punt. They got the ball back with just under eight-minutes to go in the second quarter. It was at that point that Big Blue were able to get the ball moving. In an area that they have suffered all season long, the Giants began to get the ball moving on the ground. On a thirteen-play scoring drive, Brandon Jacobs, with a head full of steam, rushed for a total of 46 yards, including a 34-yard run - his longest of the season. Ahmad Bradshaw rushed for nine yards and had 15 receiving yards on the same drive. Eli Manning had success running the ball, also. Manning scrambled to keep the drive alive, early on, for 14 yards. Ultimately, a four-yard touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks were the first offensive points on the board. Giants,7-2.
Pressure was item number one on the Giants' defensive menu today. And pressure is exactly what they brought on the next drive. Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul were two of the most relentless pass rushers. But it was Rocky Bernard who got to Matt Ryan for the first sack of the day. The New York defense continued to dominate, limiting the Atlanta offense to zero points in the first half.
Matt Ryan and his Falcons got the ball back at the start of the half. However, the New York defense continued to batter and bruise up the Atlanta offense. The G-Men allowed one first-down conversion and forced the Birds to punt again. On the next drive, New York worked their way down the field but couldn't find the end zone for seven. They were limited to a Lawrence Tynes field goal, making the score 10-2.
The Falcons, looking to get back in the game, drove down the field only to experience another case of stomach-churning, deja vu. Threatening to score on a face-saving drive, Atlanta found themselves back in another risky fourth-and-one situation. Repeating their mistakes of the past, they opted to go for it. The Big Blue Wall stopped them in their tracks, once more. Three plays later and the Giants had another seven-points on the board. A seventy-two yard Manning-Nicks reception being the beefy play of the 1:32 drive. The Giants ended the third quarter on top, 17-2.
The G-Men continued to control both sides of the ball in the fourth quarter. Manning orchestrated another scoring drive, both in the air and on the ground. Brandon Jacobs had a stellar day, recording 92 rushing yards - with a long of thirty-four. Ahmad Bradshaw had a great day on the ground, as well. He put up 63 rushing yards, with a long of thirty yards.
The Falcons came in expecting that Victor Cruz would make big things happen and covered him as such. The problem was that with all of the focus they put on Cruz distracted them from all of the other offensive weapons that the Giants posses, Hakeem Nicks in particular. Nicks had 115 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Eli Manning's 23-of-32 for 277 yards and three touchdowns earned him a passer rating of 129.3. Rocky Bernard and Osi Umenyiora recorded a sack each. Jason Pierre-Paul had six-solo tackles and two assists.
You have to give credit to the Giants secondary this week. They shadowed a very talented Falcons receiving corps. The Giants won every battle on the field. Their running game was downhill all day. Their aerial attack was precise. The secondary were everywhere and our O/D lines played their best game of the season. The Giants were a cohesive unit stuck together with contact cement. They are a very dangerous playoff team right now. The Green Bay Packers might find themselves feeling quite blue after playing the Giants next week.