In December, NFL teams that are playoff-bound want to make a statement. For the Falcons they made a huge statement on Sunday against the New York Giants, winning big 34-0 and proving all the naysayers that they can play with the best.
“It’s very important,” Falcons head coach Mike Smith said talking about winning a game where offense defense and special teams are clicking. “They don’t remember what you do in September and October. It’s all about December and January.”
The Falcons threw the first punch when Asante Samuel, who made his return after missing the last two games with a shoulder injury, picked off an Eli Manning pass on the second play from scrimmage in the first quarter. The turnover led to Michael Turner scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run four plays later.
After a missed 30-yard field goal by Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes, the Falcons put together a 10-play, 80-yard drive later in the quarter, which ended with a Ryan 12-yard touchdown pass to Tony Gonzalez to give the Falcons the 14-0 lead.
The Falcons defense took over in the second quarter. Early in the second, Manning was picked off again, and this time it was Thomas DeCoud who came up with the pick. That led to a Matt Bryant 38-yard field goal to put the Falcons up by 17.
On the Giants next two possessions in the second quarter, they went for it on fourth down twice deep in Falcons territory and failed both times. Sean Weatherspoon tackled David Wilson for no gain on the first fourth-down try and Manning threw an incomplete pass to Victor Cruz which was broken up by Samuel.
“Those fourth down stops are like turnovers.” Smith said. “We know that when you make them as a football team it can change the momentum. It multiplies when you stop them on defense.”
The fourth down stops from the defense help springboard the offense in the third quarter. The Falcons put together another 80-yard drive to start the third and it ended with a Julio Jones 40-yard touchdown reception from Ryan to increase the lead to 24.
“[Jones’] patience on those routes and his top-end speed are as good as anybody in this league,” Ryan said who finished the game 23 of 28 with 270 yards and three touchdowns. “When he gets those one-on-one matchups, I’m fortunate to have him.”
Bryant would add another field goal later in the third quarter and the Falcons would put the nail in the coffin early in the fourth, putting together a 13-play drive, which lasted more than nine minutes. At the end of the drive, Ryan would find Jones for a 3-yard touchdown pass.
This game was not only a statement game to the experts that doubt the Falcons, it was bounce-back game for them after suffering a disappointing loss to the Carolina Panthers last week.
“I thought we rebounded very well from our performance from last week,” Smith said. We didn’t play up to our standards and expectations and we knew we would have to play beyond them this week. I thought we did that in all three phases.”
Another thing to note about this game is that this was the first time the Falcons have pitched a shutout at home since 2002 when they defeated the Carolina Panthers 30-0. This is also the first time the Giants have been shutout in a regular season game since 1996.
“This was the first shutout in my NFL career,” Weatherspoon said who led all defenders with nine tackles. “The important thing was to get the win, and as the game progressed, we made a collective effort as a defensive unit to keep the score at zero.”
The Falcons improved their record to 12-2 and only have to win one of their next two games to clinch the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. They play the Detroit Lions next week and they want play even better football as the playoffs draw closer.
“We just want to do whatever coach (Mike Smith) says; that coaching unit has put us in a great position to win games week-in and week-out,” Samuel said. “Over my career, the recipe for success is taking the momentum from the regular season, and riding that throughout the playoffs.”