Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
The Atlanta Falcons just showed what a great team can do against a contender.
All year long, I've said that this Falcons team has as much talent as I've ever seen in my 20-plus years of being a fan. All year, I've waited to hear everyone outside of the Falcons organization and Falcons fandom to recognize the talent on this team.
That hadn't happened for a lot of reasons coming into the Falcons-Giants game, chief among them the loss to the Panthers. Even though contenders lose—sometimes badly—to inferior teams every year, somehow the ugly loss to the Panthers just fueled the narrative that the Falcons were not as good as their record. Many predicted a similarly gruesome fate at the hands of the New York Giants, a team with proven post-season success.
You all know the rest.
The Falcons came out angry, motivated and playing well. They picked Eli Manning twice. They stopped the Giants in short yardage. They slowed down the ground game and kept Manning unsteady all day. They completed long passes, busted long runs and made key plays on special teams. They played, in short, an impressively complete game. For the first time all season, they truly blew out a quality team.
If you've been looking for a statement game, you just got one. The Falcons were coming off a bad loss, playing last year's Super Bowl champion and had a ton of reasons to take it easy with the playoffs looming, and they absolutely blew the Giants out. There's no way you can spin this to be anything but an impressive Falcons win.
If anyone mocks the Falcons for not winning a playoff game up until this point, point to this game. If anyone tells you the Falcons can't play a complete game, point to this game. If anyone says the Falcons haven't beat a contender up to this point, point to this game. It is the most impressive win of the season thus far, and it has changed the narrative around this team, even if no one else is capable of seeing that.
I'm still giddy about this one, but it's time to move on to the individual performances. Let's hit it.
- Matt Ryan badly needed a game to silence his critics and show he could move the offense consistently. He had it against the Giants, completing about 80% of his passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns. With the line playing a fine game, he made the best possible use of his time, finding the open man and carving up the secondary. Concerns? Erased.
- Michael Turner had a great game against a tough but not overly physical Giants defense, averaging over four yards per carry and pounding in a touchdown. Early on, he basically pushed the offense down the field, and he deserves an enormous amount of credit for running that well.
- Harry Douglas had one of his finest games as a pro, reeling in three long passes for 83 yards and consistently beating coverage. He bailed the offense out multiple times.
- Julio Jones had a game that I think will be underrated, just because he didn't exceed 100 yards receiving. He still caught six balls for 74 yards and two touchdown and chipped in a crazy 18 yards run on an end-around, adding in a stiff arm for good measure. When used properly, there's not a more terrifying wide receiver in football, and this may have been the most impressive game of his young career.
- Tony Gonzalez is truly ageless. Six catches, 49 yards and a leaping touchdown over the Giants secondary. Nothing more can be said.
- The offensive line was superlative today. The Giants pass rush has been inconsistent in 2012, yes, but there's plenty of talent there. The Falcons gave Matt Ryan time, did better than decent in run blocking and it led to an insane offensive performance.
- Give the pass rush a ton of credit for getting after Eli Manning. They only had one sack from Kroy Biermann, who played a superlative game, but they constantly forced him to force throws and toss the ball away before he was ready. They get the job done, over and over again, and it's time to retire the meme that they don't.
- The secondary helped blow this game wide open early. Between Asante Samuel and Thomas DeCoud jumping routes and making key picks, they were able to turn Eli Manning to jelly early. They also shut down very talented Giants receivers all game long, utterly ruining the Giants' chances of having an offense in this one.
- I have to give the Falcons defense all the credit in the world, in general. The Giants had no answer for Mike Nolan's scheme and the players' playing their hearts out. Holding a prolific offense to zero points—the first time since '95 that's happened—is an accomplishment worth celebrating. It will nourish me for the entire week.
- Matt Bryant is money.
- Matt Bosher is dollars.
- The whole team is now in the driver's seat for home field advantage. If they can play these kinds of games at home, the NFL should be terrified of them. 12-2!
- I can't, in good conscience, spend more than one bullet on the ugly. So here it is: Dominique Franks still can't return, the Falcons could be a little more aggressive and it would have been nice to see a couple more sacks. That's it. That's all you get. I love this game.
Game MVP: So many worthy choices, but I'll give it to Ryan. He commanded this offense with authority.
Game Theme Song: Anything loud and awesome.
One Thing To Take Away: The Falcons can beat anyone. They can smoke anyone. They are capable of complete games.
Final Word: Twelveandtwo.