Just when we thought the Falcons couldn't possibly look worse than last week, they go ahead and play like this—and totally redeem themselves.
Following the most embarrassing loss of the season, Atlanta went out and destroyed the New York Giants on Sunday, beating the reigning Super Bowl Champions by the score of 34-0. This marks the first time the G-Men have been shut out in a regular season game since the Clinton presidency.
You wanted a statement game? Well, there you have it.
Sunday's contest was, for all intents and purposes, the bizarro version of last January's playoff matchup between these two teams. This time around, the Falcons made all the big played and racked up the points; conversely, the Giants' offense was shut out and failed to convert multiple fourth down attempts.
Revenge, as they say, is a dish best served cold.
"The old (Bill Parcells) quote, whatiever it is, 'You are what your record says you are,' and we're a good football team," Tony Gonzalez said. "We're not going to tlet anybody mess with our focus or our psyche. We know the reality of it and I understand it. I understand why the media doesn't have the stomach to pick us, to get on that bandwagon but it doesn't matter to us anyway."
Ryan Outperforms Another Manning
Eli Manning was clearly the inferior quarterback on Sunday, as the two-time Super Bowl MVP struggled from beginning to end. The former San Diego Chargers draft pick finished the day completing 16 of 25 for just 161 yards and two interceptions.
"We felt like if we could get to him up the middle, move him off the spot, it makes him a different guy," Sean Weatherspoon said of Manning. "He got out to the left on us a few times and made some plays but, ultimately, we pretty much stopped him."
On the other hand, Matty Ice tossed three TDs—two to Julio Jones—and gained 270 yards in the air. Ryan also broke his own franchise record for most passing yards in a season, and currently sits at 4,202.
"It was important for us as a team and in the locker room how we rebounded from last week," Ryan said. "As coach Smith preaches all the time, it’s how you respond to these situations (that defines you)."
This marks the second time this season the Falcons have made a Manning brother look foolish on Georgia Dome turf. Peyton and Eli have combined for five interceptions against Atlanta this season, both losing their respective games against Mike Smith's team.
Turner Reignites Running Game in First Half
Michael Turner silenced doubters—at least temporarily—with one of his strongest performances of the 2012 campaign. While he finished with just 52 yards and a 3.2 average, Turner had himself an impressive first half, which forced the Giants defense to respect the run. This opened up the passing game more than we've seen most of the season, and allowed Ryan to carve up the depleted New York secondary.
Turner, the Falcons all-time TD leader, has scored in five straight games.
Defense Gets First Shutout of Season
The Falcons defense had its strongest performace of 2012, shutting out the Giants and holding them to only 256 net yards. They also forced three turnovers—two interceptions and a fumble recovery—giving Mike Nolan as well-rounded of a performance as the coordinator could hope for.
"For our defense to be able to shut out a good offense and a really good quarterback was big," Ryan said.
The linebackers, namely Stephen Nicholas and Sean Weatherspoon, played particularly well, combining for 17 tackles as a unit. While Spoon's strong play has expected from the get-go, the maturation of Nicholas has been somewhat surprising and an absolute treat to watch.
Home Field Advantage Will Have to Wait
With a win on Sunday, the Falcons moved closer to earning a first round bye in the 2012 playoffs and the top seed in the NFC. Unfortunately, thanks to an untimely loss by New England, Atlanta will have to wait another week before anything else is clinched.
Had the Patriots beaten the 49ers on Sunday Night Football, the Falcons would have been guaranteed one of the top two seeds in the conference, along with a bye in the first round of the playoffs. However, despite an admirable comeback, Tom Brady was unable to get the job done.
The Falcons' fate, luckily, remains in their hands. If they are able to take down Detroit next week, they will earn that bye they've been looking for. They'll get that shot on the national stage on ESPN Saturday Night Football.