Falcons make big statement in 34-0 rout of Giants

Maybe now, the Atlanta Falcons will get a little respect.

Certainly, no one can accuse them of lacking a quality win.

Not after the pounding they gave the defending Super Bowl
champions on Sunday.

Matt Ryan threw three touchdown passes and the defense handed
New York its first regular-season shutout since 1996, carrying the
Falcons to a 34-0 rout of the Giants with the playoffs
approaching.

”They have the hardware and they have the history,” Falcons
safety Thomas DeCoud said. ”This is a good benchmark game to play
against a championship-caliber team.”

The Falcons (12-2), who have already clinched the NFC South,
moved a step closer to home-field advantage throughout the
conference playoffs. One more win – next Saturday at Detroit, or
the regular-season finale at home against Tampa Bay – would ensure
that any postseason contests before the Super Bowl are held at the
Georgia Dome.

Despite their lofty record, Atlanta has received plenty of
criticism for struggling to beat inferior opponents. A 30-20 loss
to last-place Carolina the previous week only seemed to reinforce
the notion that the Falcons are headed for another short stay in
the playoffs. They have yet to win a postseason game since Ryan
took over as the quarterback in 2008, going 0-3.

”We love the haters, man,” said Falcons cornerback Asante
Samuel, who had the first of two interceptions against Eli Manning.
”The haters keep us going. So keep your hate coming. We love it.
It makes us play with a chip on our shoulder.”

For the Giants (8-6), it was a miserable performance when they
had control of their own destiny, at a time of year when they
normally play some of their best football. They dropped into a
three-way tie for the NFC East lead when both Washington and Dallas
won.

”Atlanta was very, very good. We were very, very bad,” New
York coach Tom Coughlin said. ”There’s no excuse for what happened
here.”

Julio Jones caught a couple of scoring throws from Ryan, who
broke his own franchise records for completions and passing yards
in a season. Matty Ice finished 23 of 28 for 270 yards.

Manning, on the other hand, was 13 of 25 for 161 yards, leaving
him with a dismal 38.9 rating – his worst since a Dec. 23, 2007,
win at Buffalo.

The Giants went 0 for 3 on fourth down and also missed a short
field goal, putting them in a vulnerable position heading into next
Sunday’s game at Baltimore.

”We know that we can overcome losses and we can bounce back,”
Manning said. ”The team has good leadership and veteran guys and
we understand the importance of this next game. I think the mindset
will be good and we’ll have a great week of preparation and go out
there and take our best shot.

The Falcons extended the NFL’s longest active streak since
consecutive defeats to 49 games, going back to the 2009 season.

”Our focus was heightened from other weeks,” coach Mike Smith
said. ”We’ve got a lot of great leaders and mentors in that locker
room. They took the message from the meetings and took it out on
the field.”

After thoroughly dominating the Giants, the Falcons have surely
sent a resounding message to the rest of the league: beware of this
team in the playoffs.

”Last week everybody was talking smack about us,” defensive
end John Abraham said. ”We just continue what we’re doing.”

Manning threw his first pick on the second play of scrimmage,
setting up a quick, 16-yard touchdown drive for the Falcons.
Coughlin made a curious call late in the first half, passing up
another short field-goal attempt when his team was almost 2 yards
shy of the marker. Samuel batted down a short pass intended for
Victor Cruz, sending Atlanta to the locker room with a 17-0 lead
and all the momentum.

”I was thinking we needed to engender a lift for our
sideline,” Coughlin said. ”That did not work out either.”

Nothing did.

It was all Falcons after Lawrence Tynes missed a chip-shot kick
from 30 yards, ruining an impressive second possession by the
Giants. Atlanta took it 80 yards from there, with Ryan going to
Harry Douglas on a 37-yard gain for the biggest play. Then, on
third-and-11 from the 12, Ryan went to his favorite target, Tony
Gonzalez, for a 12-yard touchdown.

”We have two games left and we have to win those two games,”
Manning said. ”What else happens after that, we don’t know and
can’t control.”

Early in the second half, the Falcons blew it open on Ryan’s
40-yard touchdown pass to Jones down the left sideline. Finally,
after a drive that used up more than 9 minutes in the fourth
quarter, Ryan went to Jones for a 3-yard TD.

The Giants turned it over one more time in the closing minutes,
finishing off their first shutout in the regular season since a
24-0 defeat at Philadelphia on Dec. 1, 1996. The performance came
just a week after they put up 52 points on the New Orleans
Saints.

NOTES: The Giants wore ”SHES” decals on their blue helmets in
honor of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Also, Cruz
dedicated the game to 6-year-old victim Jack Pinto, a big Giants
fan. … New York’s last shutout loss came in the playoffs after
the 2005 season, a 23-0 setback at Carolina. … Ryan has thrown
for 4,202 yards and 27 touchdowns this season.

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