New York Giants 27 – Atlanta Falcons 14
Game Overview: Things were looking scary at the start of the third quarter, but incredibly, the Giants absolutely dominated the football game after HB Warrick Dunn’s 90-yard touchdown run. The defense did not allow a single first down after that play until garbage time at the end of the game, and the offense put up 24 unanswered points. It was outstanding effort.
This was a big, big win for the Giants as it brought them within a half game of the division-leading Eagles and kept the team tied for second place with the Cowboys. When tie-breakers come into effect late in the season, the head-to-head win against the Falcons, plus another conference win also looms large.
But buckle your chinstraps because an even bigger game is on tap on Monday night in Dallas.
Defensive Overview: The defense played pretty darn well in the first half except for one drive late in the second quarter where Atlanta marched 72 yards in 10 plays to take a 7-3 lead. In the second half, with the sole exception of the 90-yard touchdown run, the defense dominated, not allowing another first down until there was less than four minutes left in the game and the Giants were leading 27-14. The run defense, inflated by the two touchdown runs, gave up 223 yards rushing, but QB Michael Vick only managed 154 yards passing, was sacked seven times, and turned the football over twice (he also fumbled the ball three other times where the Falcons recovered). Maybe it was the fast turf, or the defenders being more comfortable with the defense, but the Giants’ defense didn’t seem to have problems matching Atlanta’s offensive team speed. The defenders seemed to play fast.
Defensive Line: The defensive line had its best day rushing the passer thus far this year. There were some problems against the run. Osi Umenyiora (5 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble) lost his containment responsibility on Vick twice on the Falcons’ first drive, leading to two first downs. On the ensuing Falcons’ possession that started off at the Giants’ 20-yard line following a turnover, he smashed into Vick for a 9-yard sack when he was left unblocked by the left tackle. Later, he helped to cause a turnover when he quickly flashed to a loose ball and prevented Atlanta from recovering. At the start of the second quarter, Umenyiora combined with Mathias Kiwanuka to force an incompletion on 3rd-and-8 with a strong pass rush. On the next possession, Umenyiora penetrated into the backfield and tackled Dunn for a 1-yard loss. In the second half, Umenyiora beat the left tackle to the outside for a sack and slapped the football out of Vick’s hands (the Falcons recovered). He later got good heat again on Vick on another incompletion.
Michael Strahan (2 tackles) had a somewhat quiet day. He lost contain on Vick on a 3rd-and-3 play late in the first quarter on a scramble that picked up a first down. On the next series, Strahan did a great job of penetrating into the backfield and tackling Dunn for a gain of only one yard. In the 4th quarter, Strahan came alive on the pass rush. He pressured Vick into an unsuccessful scramble on 3rd-and-13. He then had two back-to-back pressures on Vick on the Falcons’ drive after the Giants took the commanding 27-14 lead. Strahan smashed into Vick from the backside on Atlanta’s final possession too.
Mathias Kiwanuka (2 tackles) saw some action at both right defensive end and linebacker. He both rushed and dropped into coverage. When he first came into the game at end – on the fourth Atlanta offensive series – he got effectively blocked on a 6-yard run in his direction. But he held his ground better on the very next carry and the Falcons only picked up one-yard (DT Barry Cofield made a strong play here too). On the ensuing 3rd-and-3, Kiwanuka was playing linebacker outside of Strahan’s shoulder and dropping into coverage. Three plays later, on 3rd-and-8, Kiwanuka was playing linebacker over Umenyiora’s shoulder and both he and Umenyiora forced an incompletion with a strong pass rush. In the second half, I once again spotted Kiwanuka playing linebacker off of Umenyiora’s shoulder and dropping into coverage on 3rd-and-13.
Barry Cofield (6 tackles, 1.5 sacks) had a mostly positive day against the run and really flashed for the first time on the pass rush. There were a few plays where the Falcons were able to run up the middle such as Dunn’s early 8-yard run on the first drive and 20-yard run on the second drive. There was also another 8-yard run up the gut late in the second quarter. But Cofield also made a nice play on HB Jerious Norwood, holding him to a 2-yard gain. Later, he tackled Dunn for no gain on a run up the middle. In the second half, Cofield combined with Robbins to gum up another Dunn run up the gut that was held to one yard. Both he and Robbins then split a sack on Vick on 3rd-and-2 to stall the next Falcons’ drive. In the 4th quarter, Cofield ended all possible remaining hope for Atlanta when he cleanly beat the left guard for a 10-yard sack on 4th-and-7.
Fred Robbins (1 tackle, 0.5 sacks), like Cofield, had some problems early with runs up the middle. But he continued to look good in penetrating the pocket. He disrupted one early run by Dunn that lost one yard with penetration. Two plays later, he got good heat on Vick. He did miss a tackle on Dunn on a play that picked up seven yards. Robbins also continues to demonstrate a good feel for screen passes as he correctly read one in the second quarter, helping to slow it down. As mentioned, he split a sack with Cofield to end one Falcons’ possession in the second half.
I was not impressed with William Joseph. He got good penetration on one running play, but missed the tackle on Dunn in the backfield on a play that picked up seven yards. And though I have no concrete evidence to back it up, I have to think that Joseph really got out of his rush lane on the 22-yard touchdown scamper by Vick as Joseph looped far to his left to leave a gaping hole in the defense.
Linebackers: The linebackers and safeties did a great job of keeping TE Alge Crumpler (2 catches for 33 yards until garbage time late in the game) under wraps.
Brandon Short (8 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble) was very active. In the Giants’ defensive scheme, he is basically an inside linebacker and this role has suited him well against run-oriented teams such as the Redskins and Falcons. Short made two tackles – one for 1-yard loss and one for a 1-yard gain – on two early Dunn runs. In the second quarter, on Atlanta’s first touchdown drive, Short sacked Vick and forced a fumble (that Vick recovered) on the drive’s first play. A few plays later, he did a great job of quickly running up to slam Vick for another sack on a play where Vick rolled to his left. Short did get beat in coverage by Crumpler for 24 yards on Crumpler’s only catch of the first half on this drive.
All three linebackers couldn’t make the play on Dunn’s 90-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter. LB LaVar Arrington blitzed and was easily taken out of the play. And both Short and Antonio Pierce could not close in time. Pierce (4 tackles) got blocked too on Dunn’s 20-yard run in the first half. Pierce did make a very nice hit on a short pass to WR Michael Jenkins in the third quarter. Pierce was flagged for a 15-yard penalty on a late hit on Vick toward the end of the contest.
Arrington (1 tackle) got faked out by Vick on the play where Vick threw deep to Jenkins. Vick feigned a throw and got LaVar to leap, thereby allowing the quarterback to run around him. Fortunately for the Giants, Jenkins dropped what should have been a 61-yard touchdown pass. Arrington did make a nice tackle for no gain on a Norwood run late in the second quarter.
Defensive Backs: With SS Gibril Wilson (toe) a late scratch and S James Butler (knee) still not 100 percent, Jason Bell (three tackles) started at strong safety. Head Coach Tom Coughlin was highly complimentary of Bell after the game. Bell did miss a tackle on Dunn’s 90-yard touchdown run however.
Will Demps (1 tackle) was quiet. He got blocked by the fullback on the 90-yard touchdown run. He did have good coverage on Crumpler on a key 3rd-and-5 incompletion in the third quarter. On the drive right after the Giants went up 27-14, Demps did get beat by Crumpler for a 21-yard gain (and Demps failed to tackle Crumpler on this play as well).
Sam Madison (2 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception, 2 pass defenses, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery) was very active. Corey Webster got credited with an early sack and forced fumble, but it was really Madison who got there first and caused the ball to come loose (Vick recovered). This helped to stall a promising Falcons’ drive. On the very next possession, Madison saved sure points by making a very nice interception off of a deflected pass at the Giants’ 3-yard line and returning it 24 yards. Then Madison came up with the fumble recovery on Vick’s botched handoff to end Atlanta’s third offensive possession. Jenkins did have a step on Madison on a perfectly-thrown deep pass that should have resulted in a long touchdown, but Jenkins dropped the ball. Madison also badly missed a tackle on Dunn’s 90-yard run. Madison made a sure tackle on a short pass to Crumpler late in the game, and broke up the last pass into the end zone at the end of the game.
Corey Webster (4 tackles, 1 pass defense) played fairly well, but he did give up a couple of third-down, out-route completions on the Falcons’ first touchdown drive of the game. One was a 10-yard completion on 3rd-and-6 and the other a 10-yard completion on 3rd-and-8. On both plays, Webster was playing too soft. Late in the game, with the Giants in the prevent mode, Webster gave up 14-yard sideline pass to WR Ashley Lelie on 3rd-and-10. A Falcons’ receiver had a step on Webster on a deep sideline pass on the Falcons’ final possession, but S James Butler bailed out Webster with a big hit along the sidelines. Three plays later, Webster had excellent coverage on a deep pass into the end zone intended for WR Roddy White.
R.W. McQuarters (3 tackles) made a nice play on a 3rd-and-10 screen pass that only picked up two yards. McQuarters also made a fantastic play by not being fooled by the misdirection to the running back on a rollout by Vick to the left, making a very sure open-field tackle for only a 1-yard gain.
Frank Walker saw some time late in the game. However, it looked as if Pierce was unhappy with him on a play where Vick missed an open receiver. It looked like Pierce was yelling at Walker.
Offensive Overview: In what has become a disturbing trend, the offense once again did not operate on full cylinders until the second half of the football game. The passing game really struggled in the first half. One potential scoring drive was sabotaged by a holding penalty on TE Jeremy Shockey and then three ineffective plays – two of them passing and one resulting in the second interception on the day for Eli. The Giants did manage an impressive 85-yard drive in the second quarter, but this stalled at the Atlanta 3-yard line. In the second half, it was a completely different story as the Giants gouged what had been the second-best run defense in the NFL and Manning and his receivers made enough timely plays to generate 24 unanswered points on four consecutive scoring drives. Keep in mind that Atlanta had given up only one touchdown on defense all season up until they played the Giants. Give credit to the coaching staff for sticking with the running game when down by 11 points. The coaching staff also wisely used a lot of misdirection plays.
Quarterback: It was a tale of two halves for Manning who was 6-of-12 for 60 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions in the first half, and 11-of-18 for 120 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions in the second half. One problem that Manning had sporadically throughout the game was that a few of his passes were on the high side.
Manning’s first pass was intercepted, but this was more of a fluke play as the ball was tipped at the line. His second passing came on 3rd-and-7 on the ensuing drive. It was a questionable decision on his part as Shockey was well covered by two defenders three yards short of the first down (and Manning had time to look elsewhere). There appeared to be miscommunication between Manning and Plaxico on his third passing attempt as the pass was thrown nowhere near Burress and it was almost intercepted. This drive did end with an interception as Manning’s pass to Tim Carter was high and tipped. On the next possession, Manning threw way behind a wide-open Burress on 3rd-and-14.
Manning played far better on the Giants’ final two drives of the first half. He hit Barber for 18 yards on a screen and threw a very accurate ball to Burress for 15 yards over the middle as the Giants drove to the Atlanta 3-yard line. During the two-minute drill on the last drive, he completed four straight passes for 32 yards before being sacked. On this last play, Manning didn’t help out his right tackle by stepping up or feeling the pressure however.
On the first drive in the second half, Manning completed back-to-back passes to Burress for a total of 20 yards. But his 3rd-and-6 pass to Burress was high and fell incomplete. On the Giants’ first touchdown drive of the game, he threw too low to an open Toomer, resulting in an incompletion. But he made a wonderfully accurate throw to Tim Carter on a deep sideline line for 15 yards on 3rd-and-11 to keep the drive alive despite being under pressure. The second touchdown drive included some absolutely critical passing plays. Manning hit Barber for 16 yards to start the possession. He late found Shockey for 19 yards down to the Atlanta 42-yard line. After overthrowing Toomer, two plays later he hit Shockey for 16 yards on 3rd-and-10. Then on 1st-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Eli threw a very accurate pass to Shockey in the end zone for a touchdown.
In the fourth quarter, the Giants put the Falcons away with two more scoring drives. On the first, the field goal drive, Manning hit Toomer for 12 yards, but the Giants could not convert on 3rd-and-4 when Manning was again too high on a pass to Burress. On the final touchdown drive, Manning threw Short to FB Jim Finn for six yards. He then found Shockey for 10 yards again on another key third-down play (3rd-and-4). The drive culminated with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Shockey over the middle.
Wide Receivers: Not a terribly productive game in the receiving department as Plaxico Burress was held to 44 yards on four catches, Amani Toomer to 18 yards on two catches, and Tim Carter to 15 yards on one catch. The catch by Carter was a key one as it came on 3rd-and-11 on the Giants’ first touchdown drive of the game – a drive that cut the Atlanta lead to 14-10.
The receivers did block well for the run. Burress showed a lack of hustle by initially quitting and not chasing the defender on Manning’s second interception, but his crushing tackle on the interceptor was fun to replay a number of times.
Michael Jennings looked very fast and quick on his 21-yard end around.
Running Backs: It’s tough for me to come up with new superlatives to address Tiki Barber’s game performances. I will simply let the facts speak for themselves. The 259 yards rushing generated by the Giants was the tenth-highest total in franchise history and the 185 yards accrued by Tiki Barber on the ground was the fifth-highest of his amazing career. Barber also chipped in with 42 yards on three catches, easily making him the Giants’ offensive MVP for the game. Barber averaged over seven yards per carry against the Falcons on 26 carries.
There has been talk this week that Barber will retire after the season. I hope he does not do so for a variety of reasons. I know he will have a great second career after his football career is over, but if he can manage to put together a Hall of Fame resume, I think that will open even more doors for him, even in the non-football world. Personally, I think he has to play at least one more season in order to be seriously considered for the Hall.
In the first half, Barber picked up 70 yards on 11 carries. On the Giants’ third drive of the game, he broke off back-to-back runs of 18 and 15 yards, setting up his blockers well and demonstrating good patience (as usual). Later, on the Giants’ first field goal drive, he gained 18 yards on a screen pass, got away from an unblocked defensive end for a 16-yard carry, and picked up 13 yards on two other carries. In the two-minute drill at the end of the half, Barber had a 9-yard run and an 8-yard reception.
In the second half, Barber gained 115 yards on 15 carries. The biggest run – both in terms of yardage and emotional importance – was his 29-yarder on 2nd-and-15 right after the Falcons had taken a 14-3 lead. Two plays later came a 16-yarder up the gut. This drive ended with a touchdown run by Brandon Jacobs. On the next TD drive, Barber started off the possession with a 16-yard reception, then a 9-yard run. Tiki then almost scored on a 13-yard run down to the 2-yard line. Barber picked up 18 more yards on three carries on the field goal drive. On the final touchdown drive, there was a big run of 17 yards by Barber.
Brandon Jacobs (11 carries for 53 yards, a 4.8 yards-per-carry average) continues to complement Barber extremely well. Most of work came in the second half. He scored the Giants’ first touchdown with a 2-yard run. Then on the second touchdown drive, he had runs of 5, 8, and 3 yards. This possession finished with a touchdown pass to Shockey, and on that play, Jacobs stood up an onrushing defensive end like he was an offensive tackle – very impressive. On the final touchdown drive, Jacobs had a big 12-yard run down to the Falcons’ 8-yard line.
Jim Finn was instrumental in many of Barber’s runs by clobbering linebackers, especially on outside running plays. So critical is he to many of Barber’s runs that, in my mind, he is turning into one of the better fullbacks in the NFL. He did contribute to Manning getting sacked on one play by getting pushed back into the pocket by a blitzing linebacker. He also had one reception for six yards on the final touchdown drive.
Tight Ends: A bit of a breakout game for Jeremy Shockey, whose overall numbers (six catches for 55 yards) do not look as impressive as the quality of those catches (key receptions to keep the chains moving, plus Shockey’s first multiple touchdown game of his career).
Shockey did almost all of his damage in the second half as he only had one catch for four yards in the first half. He also made two big mistakes in the blocking department. First, he helped to stall a promising drive with a dumb holding penalty where he tried to grab a Falcon by the ankles. Later in the game, on 3rd-and-goal, he failed to pick up a blitzing linebacker who hit Manning before he had a chance to even make a play. Other than that, Shockey did block fairly well for the running game and was singled out by Coach Coughlin for his work in that department.
Shockey was a major factor on the second touchdown drive. He made a fantastic 19-yard reception on a high pass thrown slightly behind him despite being very well covered. Then he kept the drive alive with a crucial 16-yard reception on 3rd-and-10. This possession finished with a 2-yard touchdown reception by Shockey. On the final touchdown drive, Shockey came up with another clutch reception on 3rd-and-4 to keep that drive alive. He then finished this possession off with a 4-yard touchdown catch by bullying his way into the end zone.
Rich Seubert continues to see limited time at tight end, mostly in the first half of this game.
Offensive Line: When your team generates 259 yards rushing, you know your offensive line is controlling the line of scrimmage. The line allowed two first half sacks, but did not allow one in the second half. Keep in mind that the Falcons have one of the very best pass-rushing defensive lines in football and that the Falcons had been allowing less than 70 yards rushing per game coming into this contest.
To me, the blocking star of the game was LG David Diehl. He was fantastic on short pulls to his left and long pulls to his right. RG Chris Snee also had some very nice pulling efforts, but the bulk of the impressive pulling work was done by Diehl. Much of the Giants’ ground game was geared to the left in the first half and early in the second half, but the Giants then smartly crossed the Falcons up by running to their right quite a bit. Everyone up front blocked well. Both tackles – LT Luke Petitgout and RT Kareem McKenzie – did a very nice job against two of the better pass-rushing defensive ends in the game. And both run blocked well. McKenzie is so big and strong that it doesn’t look like he really is even exerting himself when he shoves defenders out of the way. Snee just likes to punish people. On the 16-yard run by Barber in the third quarter, Snee actually blocked both defensive tackles on the play. Disruptive Falcons’ DT Rod Coleman was kept in check by the interior trio.
Bob Whitfield saw some action at left tackle late in the game.
There were a few mistakes, but listing them should not detract from the overall impressive performance. On Manning’s first sack, not only did Finn get pushed back into the pocket, but so did Diehl. On the 3rd-and-goal play where Shockey missed a block, McKenzie made a mental error by not picking up the outside rusher and allowing Manning to get pressured very quickly. McKenzie gave up a sack late in the first half when DE John Abraham easily beat him to the outside, but Manning didn’t help out McKenzie by stepping up into the pocket or feeling the pressure on this play either. On the very next snap, a 25-yard screen pass to Barber was erased due to a holding penalty on Snee. Petitgout was flagged with a false start in the third quarter. Snee gave up a pressure on the 3rd-and-10 completion to Carter for a first down.
Special Teams: Kickoff coverage was solid with Atlanta returns of 22 yards (Justin Tuck on the tackle), 27 yards (Jason Bell), 27 yards (Tuck), 21 yards (Chase Blackburn), and 22 yards (Blackburn). Kevin Dockery was flagged for being offsides on one kickoff. PK Jay Feely’s kickoffs were much better with his kicks being fielded at the goal line, 1, goal line, goal line, touchback, and –4 yards into the end zone.
Feely also connected on both of his field goals, one from 21 yards out and the other from 39 yards out.
Jeff Feagles punted four times for an average of 35.5 yards per punt. His first punt was a poor effort that only traveled 30 yards and went out of bounds at the Atlanta 36-yard line. His second went 36 yards and was fair caught. Feagles’ third effort was far better – 44 yards and fair caught at the 10-yard line. His final punt traveled 32 yards and was downed at the 6-yard line.
The return game was non-productive. Chad Morton was only provided with one chance to return a punt and he only managed to gain one yard on that effort. Three other punts were fair caught and two went out of bounds. Morton returned two kickoffs, picking up only 20 yards on both.
Coaching: Two coaching beefs: (1) It made absolutely no sense not to go for the 2-point conversion after the last touchdown with less than four minutes to go. That is the kind of mistake that could cost you a football game. (2) I didn’t like the last two plays called in the red zone on the Giants’ first field goal drive. The running play to Jacobs was too slow-developing for a fast defense like the Falcons. And I don’t like going no backfield on 3rd-and-goal from the 3-yard line. But overall, the Giants’ coaching staff performed admirably and was a significant factor in the win.