The Falcons have faced their fair share of criticism this year. It all stems from the main question that hovers over their 2012 season like a specter: whether or not the Falcons can win a playoff game. Well, the Falcons appeared to exorcise that ghost with a dominant 34-0 shut out of the New York Giants.
The Falcons have been accused of taking advantage of a very weak schedule this year. The Giants represent one of only four opponents on the Falcons slate that currently has a winning record. The others: the Denver Broncos, Washington Redskins, and Dallas Cowboys were all beat by the Falcons. They have won a number of close games against cellar-dwelling opponents. That all culminated with an embarrassing 10-point loss to the Carolina Panthers. Coming off a thrilling win over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night the previous week, the Falcons looked unfocused and lethargic against the Panthers. Questions were raised about whether this team had the focus to change their postseason fortunes.
But the Falcons provided answers Sunday afternoon with their beatdown of the New York Giants. The Giants are a team that has built a reputation in recent years as one capable of turning on “the switch” at the opportune time. A switch that suggests when their backs are against they wall, they play their best football. After all, they had done so a year ago with a strong finish on their path to a Super Bowl victory. A path that went right over, through, and under Atlanta in the playoffs.
But on Sunday afternoon, the Falcons returned the embarrassment as the Giants were outright throttled by the Falcons. After two lackluster offensive performances against the Saints and Panthers, the Falcons offense rebounded with a brilliant effort against the Giants. The Falcons 34-point effort was their biggest of the season since the 40 points they scored in Week 1 mashing of the Chiefs. Their defense was able to create three turnovers and shut down the Giants three times on fourth and short, guiding the Giants to their donut on the scoreboard.
A week ago the Falcons appeared to be limping towards the top seed in the NFC. This week, they are going to be among the most feared teams in the NFL. The Falcons defense had appeared to be in “playoff mode” since their win over the Saints where Brees was picked off five times. The offense not so much…until yesterday.
The offensive line, which had been whipped by the Giants last January performed marvelously against the vaunted Giants front. Matt Ryan was sacked only once and saw little pressure. So little that Ryan seemed to hardly break a sweat as he completed 82% of his 28 attempts for 270 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Falcons gained 129 yards on the ground, their second best effort of the season.
The defense continues to build its reputation for strong play against top quarterbacks. It marked the Falcons sixth game where the defense forced at least three turnovers. Eli Manning adds his name to the list of top quarterbacks who have suffered that fate alongside his older brother Peyton, Philip Rivers, and Drew Brees.
The Falcons now sit 12-2, atop the NFC and likely to finish with home field advantage throughout the playoffs. They will hope and plan to use this Giants victory as a springboard to change their fortunes from the last time they had such an advantage, back in 2010. Then, they lost to the Green Bay Packers in an embarrassing fashion. They were unable to force a single punt all game long. This year, Mike Nolan has the defense firing on all cylinders, ready to eradicate that memory from the minds of Falcon fans and Defend the Dome. Now, it finally appears that the offense is now caught up and ready to go as well.
UPDATE: Forgot that the Cowboys also sport a winning record.