EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Much to the dismay of the Falcons’ front office and despite their best efforts, the Falcons are not a championship level NFL team.
The Falcons were defeated by the New York Giants 24-2 and rudely escorted from the playoffs at MetLife Stadium before a raucous crowd of 79,909 fans on Sunday.
After playing a gutsy first half, the Falcons were treated like imposters trying to crash a glitzy Broadway party in the second half.
New York wide receiver Hakeem Nicks mocked the team’s tradition by doing the Dirty Bird dance after a 72-yard third-quarter touchdown and the festive Giants fans at the stadium spent parts of the fourth quarter chatting, “Hey, hey hey…Good-bye.”
Last season, the Falcons came out of the regular season winners of the NFC South. Because of some major offseason moves they were considered by some to be a Super Bowl contender.
They spruced up the offense by trading five picks to move up 21 spots in the draft to select wide receiver Julio Jones. They also signed defensive end Ray Edwards, cornerback Kelvin Hayden and safety James Sanders.
But things didn’t gel during the season as the Falcons tried to get more explosive and get to the level of offensive powerhouses like Green Bay and New Orleans.
Edwards never provided much of a pass rush, Hayden ended the season on injured reserve and Sanders was a dependable reserve.
With the offense searching for its identity and the defense remaining weak against the pass, the team was not able to climb to elite status in the conference.
With the stinging defeat, the Falcons were eliminated in their first game in the playoffs for the third time over the past four seasons.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank was hoping for a breakthrough with a playoff win this season.
“I don’t think the team took a step back, but I think obviously we’re disappointed,” Blank said.
It was the first time the Falcons made the playoffs in consecutive seasons. However, with the defeat, the Falcons have not won a playoff game since beating St. Louis, 47-17, on Jan. 15, 2005 in the divisional round.
“We struggled in several areas of the ball game,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “They won the battle of the line of scrimmage and that was one of the ‘musts’ we had to accomplish and we didn’t get it accomplished.”
The Giants, the NFC East champions, advance to play the Green Bay Packers at 4:30 p.m. Sunday.
The Giants shut down the Falcons rushing attack, harassed quarterback Matt Ryan and stopped the Falcons on two key fourth-and-short situations.
“They did win the line of scrimmage and there is no doubt about that,” Smith said. “It was very evident as you watched the ball game in person. [When] we watch the film, I think we’ll see that being confirmed.”
The Falcons needed to run the ball in order to open up their passing attack. Running back Michael Turner was held to 41 yards on 15 carries.
With the run held in check, New York’s talented and athletic defensive line could rush Ryan with abandon.
Ryan, who completed 24 of 41 passes for 199 yards, did not have enough time to pass the ball deep to his fleet wide receivers, who were held up at the line of scrimmage by the New York defensive backs.
“Their front four played very well,” Ryan said. “That’s kind of what we expected. . . we were in a rhythm at some points and just didn’t make the plays on crucial third and fourth downs when we needed them to keep drives going. I think that’s probably why we stalled out a little bit.”
The Giants led 7-2 at halftime as both offenses struggled early.
The Falcons went into their no-huddle attack on their third possession and started to move the football. They put together three first downs to move from their 10-yard line to the Giants’ 25. The drive stalled when Ryan was stuffed on a fourth-and-1.
After a holding call on Giants guard Chris Snee on first down, New York quarterback Eli Manning was being chased in the end zone by Sanders and committed an intentional grounding penalty. The Falcons were awarded a safety to make it 2-0.
The offense couldn’t take advantage of a short-field after a 21-yard punt return by Eric Weems and were forced to punt after the drive stalled at New York’s 41.
The Giants offense finally came alive. They converted on two third downs and running back Brandon Jacobs broke loose for a 34-yard run down to Atlanta’s 15-yard line.
The defense stiffened and held the Giants to fourth-and-1 from the 5. Jacobs was hit in the backfield by middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, but spun forward for the first down. On the next play, Manning tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Nicks, who had gotten inside of Dominique Franks, to make it 7-2.
The Giants went ahead 10-2 on a 22-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes with 7:55 left in the third quarter.
The Falcons were on the move again. They drove from their 21 to New York’s 21. A third-and-15 pass to Roddy White came up inches short of the first down. On the fourth-and-inches, the Falcons went to an empty backfield as they tried to spread out the Giant’s defense. From that passing formation, Ryan ran another quarterback sneak and couldn’t find a seam as his line was overpowered again.
Three plays later, Nicks caught a 12-yard pass at the Giants’ 33, faked out safety Thomas DeCoud and then out-ran five defenders for a 72-yard touchdown to make it 17-2. That’s when he started dancing, doing the Dirty Bird dance that was popularized by the 1998 team that reached the Super Bowl.
On New York’s next possession, Manning tossed a 27-yard touchdown pass to Mario Manningham with 9:55 left for the game’s final points.
“Hopefully, this is a lesson learned going into next season,” said tight end Tony Gonzalez.
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog