Being embarrassed in the playoffs is becoming a habit for the Falcons. It’s one that has them wondering what they can do to break it.
Eli Manning threw three touchdowns and the Giants’ defense stuffed quarterback Matt Ryan on two crucial fourth-and-1 sneaks in basically pitching a shutout in a 24-2 victory that left the Falcons 0-3 in the postseason under coach Mike Smith.
“We can’t lose like this in the playoffs,” defensive end John Abraham, said. “We should have been able to do something different. We played well in the beginning, but it kind of got away from us in the end.
“They hit us when they needed to. I don’t think they ran it well all game, but in the end, they got some big plays. They just came out ready to play, more ready than us, and did a good job.”
Atlanta (10-7) struggled all day. The Falcons had 247 yards in total offense, gave up 442 yards and saw New York’s running game post a season-high 172 yards, with Manning possibly making the biggest play with a 14-yard scramble that woke up his team in the second quarter.
The setback came a year after the top-seeded Falcons were routed at home 48-21 by the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, the team the Giants (10-7) will face in the NFC semifinal next Sunday.
“You get what you earn in this league,” Smith said. “We earned a 10-6 record in the regular season, we were 0-1 in the playoffs. We did not play our best game and we are going to, starting tomorrow, do everything in our power to rectify the 10-6 record from the regular season and the 0-1 record in the postseason. That is the only way I know how to approach it and I know as an organization we will approach it. ”
Atlanta grabbed a 2-0 lead when Manning was called for illegally grounding the ball while in the end zone. The score came shortly after Ryan was stuffed on a fourth-down sneak from the New York 24. The other fourth-down failure came in the third quarter at the New York 21 with the Giants ahead 10-2. Ryan again was stopped.
Ryan blamed himself for choosing the wrong hole. His linemen took the blame.
“It’s disappointing when you have fourth-and-one and can’t get it done on short yardage. You have to convert on those plays,” tackle Will Svitek said. “That’s how the game got away from us. If you want to win a playoff game, you have to convert those.”
The win was the Giants’ first postseason victory since their Super Bowl upset of undefeated New England four years ago.
Next up is the Packers, who beat the Giants here 38-35 in December.
“We know they are a good team,” Manning said. “We played them tough here, did some good things here, we scored some points. We know offensively we are going to have to play strong, score some points.”
The team that couldn’t run the ball will be sprinting there, bringing along a defense the Packers (15-1) actually might fear. Not to mention the offense led by Manning, who hooked up on a 72-yard catch and run by Hakeem Nicks in the third quarter that put away the inept Falcons. Manning also connected on a 4-yard TD with Nicks in the second period, and a 27-yard TD throw to Mario Manningham in the fourth quarter that finished it off.
The Giants are playing with more balance on offense and more stinginess on defense than they’ve displayed most of the season. Their last postseason trip to Lambeau Field was a 23-20 overtime victory for the NFC championship two weeks before they upset the Patriots.
The tempo in the first playoff game at MetLife Stadium was set by New York’s defense, which never allowed Atlanta to get going, and by the league’s lowest-ranked rushing game, which ran for a season-high 172 yards, 92 by Brandon Jacobs and 63 by Ahmad Bradshaw.
For all of Jacobs’ and Bradshaw’s success, it was Manning’s escape and 14-yard dash on third down in the second period that got the Giants rolling. Jacobs soon broke a 34-yard run, and Manning hit Nicks on a post pattern to put the Giants up 7-2.
“I don’t think anyone is game-planning for me to run the ball,” Manning said, “but obviously there were a couple of situations where you have to do it. I am not scared to do it.”
The Giants never really had to look back as they held the Falcons to 64 yards rushing.
“Things that we normally do, we didn’t do today,” said running back Michael Turner, who was held to 41 yards. “In short yardage, those are high percentage plays for us and we didn’t come through. I’m totally surprised we didn’t get it. I feel like I let my teammates down, because I wanted to do whatever I could to help us advance. I can’t tell when it got away from us. But this is playoff football and we can’t play like that.”