FLOWERY BRANCH — Cornerback Asante Samuel and the Falcons have some history with the New York Giants and quarterback Eli Manning. And it isn’t pleasant.
Samuel and his new team will get a chance to exorcise some of those demons when the Falcons (11-2) face the Giants (8-5) at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
Samuel, while starring for New England, and Manning crossed paths five seasons ago in Super Bowl XLII. Samuel dropped an cinch interception that could have virtually ended the game and preserved New England’s perfect season. Instead they famously finished 18-1.
On the next play, Manning connected with David Tyree on his ridiculous ball-on-the-helmet catch and the Giants took home the Lombardi Trophy. Samuel has never shied away from the misplay.
“I didn’t make a play that could have easily ended the game,” Samuel said at the time.
More recently, it was Manning who eliminated the Falcons from the playoffs last season in the wild card round. The most painful dagger he landed in that day was a pass to Hakeem Nicks, who weaved his way through the secondary on his way to a 72-yard touchdown.
The Giants won 24-2 and went on to win another Super Bowl.
Samuel and Manning share more history. After he signed with the Eagles as a free agent, he faced Manning twice a season in the NFC East for four seasons.
Samuel has been more than willing to share information he has accumulated on Manning with his new Atlanta teammates.
“Just a couple of tendencies and tips that I know from playing against him two times a year,” said Samuel, who has three career interceptions and 10 passes defensed against Manning.
The Giants are averaging 256.5 passing yards per game, which ranks ninth in the league. Manning has dangerous weapons in Nicks and the Salsa-dancing Victor Cruz. Slowing down the passing attack would be vital to a Falcons’ victory.
Manning knows that Samuel will be ready for the challenge.
“He’s obviously a guy who makes a lot of plays and kind of has his own style, his own technique,” Manning said. “When he sees something, he’s aggressive and he always seems to be around the ball. You always have to keep your eyes on him.”
Samuel played three snaps against New Orleans on Nov. 29 and hasn’t played since. He’s ready to return from a lingering shoulder injury.
“Just being injured and hurting and not feeling like yourself every day was tough,” Samuel said. “Like I said, I’m working hard to get back close to 100 percent, as close as I can and be back to normal.”
With the NFC South title and a playoff berth wrapped up, the Falcons could let Samuel rest. But Falcons coach Mike Smith said that the team will play to win down the stretch.
“That’s not my call,” Samuel said. “I’m here to work hard and help my team any way I can. I just do what I’m obligated to do.”
Robert McClain and Christopher Owens both spent time in Samuel’s left cornerback spot while he’s been sidelined.
“They did a good job,” Samuel said. “Everybody did a good job. Rob and C.O. came in and made some plays. They helped us win some games.”
Samuel has 31 tackles and 13 passes defensed, according to the coaches’ film review. He also has two interceptions.
In addition to providing tips on Manning, Samuel, a 10-year veteran, has shared his career knowledge with the Falcons young cornerbacks.
“He’s been a big mentor to everybody in the secondary,” said McClain, a third-year player. “He brings a different aspect to the game for us.”
Perhaps not coincidentally, McClain is having a breakthrough season at nickel back.
“Personally, he’s taught me so much, just from me watching him and asking him questions,” McClain said. “He talks about his keys and how he plays certain routes. I’ve learned this year just from being on the same team with Asante.”
Even the safeties have picked up some pointers.
“He’s definitely helped us out a lot because he’s been in the league a long time,” safety Thomas DeCoud said. “He’s played against most every team in the league. He’s seen every offense and knows coordinators when they were at different places and what their philosophies are. So he’s definitely added that veteran swagger and the knowledge of the game of football. He’s made everybody better in that regard.”
With Samuel’s return, the defense should be near full strength. However, safety William Moore is battling a hamstring injury and likely will be replaced by Chris Hope in the starting lineup.
“We have some work to do as you could see from the last game,” said Samuel, referencing the Carolina loss. “We took a step back last week. We are trying to put it back together to where we can have some momentum leading into the next season (the playoffs).”
OTHER RECENT NEWS
Panthers hold on to defeat Falcons 30-20