The Giants weren’t yet so desperate that they had to go for it on a couple early fourth-down plays against the Falcons.
The way Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon saw it, the Giants tried to convert those fourth downs just because they figured they could do it.
“That’s like they are saying, ‘We are better than you,’” Weatherspoon said. “I would have probably took the points or try to take the points. But if you are going to challenge us, we’ve got to step up and that’s what guys did today.”
Nothing illustrated Atlanta’s domination of the Giants more than stopping them three times on fourth down during its 34-0 victory Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
The Giants trailed 17-0 and were in field-goal range when they twice tried to convert fourth downs in the first half. The Giants had converted five of seven fourth downs entering the game (71 percent), the fourth-best rate in the league.
“The thinking was that it was fourth down and we needed to do something to generate a lift for our sidelines, as it was all going one way,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “And that did not work out either. It was very, very disappointing.”
The Falcons kept it going their way and ended up shutting out one of the league’s best offensive teams. New York failed to score for the first time since a 23-0 loss to Carolina in a 2006 playoff game.
Atlanta’s defensive line continually rattled Giants quarterback Eli Manning. The Falcons were particularly effective pressuring Manning between the tackles.
Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel intercepted Manning’s first pass of the game after Weatherspoon hit Manning as he released the ball. New York’s second drive ended with a missed field goal after tackles Vance Walker and Peria Jerry harassed Manning to force an incompletion on second down. Kroy Biermann got to Manning to disrupt a third-down pass attempt.
“We felt like if we could get to him up the middle, move him off the spot, it makes him a different guy,” Weatherspoon said of Manning. “He got out to the left on us a few times and made some plays but, ultimately, we pretty much stopped him.”
Two of the Falcons’ fourth-down stops came in the second quarter.
Giants running back David Wilson tried to run off left tackle on fourth-and-1 at the Atlanta 32 but Weatherspoon wrapped him up for no gain. On their next possession, the Giants went for it again on fourth-and-1 at Atlanta’s 11-yard line and Manning had to rush a short pass intended for Victor Cruz. Samuel knocked it down to preserve the 17-0 lead at halftime.
Atlanta extinguished New York’s last real hope of a comeback with another fourth-down stop. On fourth-and-2 at Atlanta’s 25-yard line in the third quarter, the Falcons again forced Manning out of the pocket and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux batted down his pass.
“For our defense to be able to shut out a good offense and a really good quarterback was big,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said.
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