The Falcons may be the most ridiculed double-digit win team in recent NFL history. Unimpressive. Easy schedule. Lucky.
For now, the Falcons just want to be called ‘Super,’ as in Super Bowl champions, if not at least legitimate contenders. They were nothing but dominant in routing the defending NFL champion New York Giants 34-0 on Sunday at a raucous Georgia Dome.
“We love the haters,” said cornerback Asante Samuel, who started the party with an interception on the second play of the game. “The haters keep us going. So keep the hate coming. It makes us play with a chip on our shoulders. We love that.”
The Falcons improved to 12-2 and inched closer to wrapping up home-field advantage in the playoffs while recording their 11th straight victory at home.
“When you come to the Georgia Dome, this is our house,” Samuel said. “That’s how we have to look at it. We ain’t taking no prisoners in our house. That’s how we are going to take the field. We are going to take the field as champs and you can’t do nothing in our house.”
Those waiting for the Falcons to produce a statement game were presented plenty of evidence. They harassed the Giants into three turnovers, stopped them three times on fourth-down conversions and beat them in Atlanta for the first time since 1978.
“We showed that we can play with the big boys,” said wide receiver Roddy White.
If some of the pundits are still be skeptical, the Falcons appear to have won over the Giants.
“They came out and beat us fair and square,” Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul said. “They put a pounding and (butt)-whipping on us.”
The Falcons needed a Green Bay loss or tie and a San Francisco loss on Sunday to clinch the home-field advantage for the postseason. But Green Bay improved to 10-4 with a win over Chicago. The 49ers played at New England in the late Sunday game.
Quarterback Matt Ryan outperformed the Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning, completing 23-of-28 passes for 270 yards and three touchdowns. But it was Atlanta’s 129 yards on the ground — Michael Turner had 52 of them on 16 carries — that helped sway the day.
“I think the run game was really crucial for us,” Ryan said. “Getting that going early and making their defensive line have to defend both, having to rush the passer and defend the run and the draw was crucial.”
The Falcons won all the battles, including a third-quarter skirmish between White and Giants cornerback Corey Webster.
While getting great interior pressure, the defense attacked Manning, intercepting two passes which led to a 17-0 halftime lead.
Ryan then tossed a 40-yard bomb to Julio Jones on the first possession of the third quarter to take firm control at 24-0.
Falcons kicker Matt Bryant added a 19-yard field with 10 seconds left in third quarter and Ryan later tossed a 3-yard touchdown to Jones for the game’s final touchdown with 4:57 to play.
The defense, led by linebacker Sean Weatherspoon’s nine tackles, had three key stops on fourth down to throttle New York. The Giants had converted 5-of 7-times (71 percent) on fourth down this season, which ranked fourth in the league.
“I think that was a little disrespectful,” Weatherspoon said. “We did it between the lines. There’s no need to talk about it.”
Last week in the Falcons’ loss to 30-20 to Carolina, they came out in a near sleep-walk and fell behind 23-0 while the Panthers scored on their first five possessions. Against the Giants, the Falcons arrived alive and alert.
On New York’s second snap, Samuel intercepted Manning and returned the ball to the Giant’s 16-yard line.
“That was huge for us,” Ryan said. “It gave us great field position offensively.”
After four straight runs by a hard-charging Turner, the Falcons scored on a 1-yard touchdown run and the day’s pattern was set.
“We had a fast start, not only on defense, but I think in all three phases,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said.
The Falcons, who were knocked out of the playoffs by the Giants 24-2 in last year’s wild-card round, hope to clinch the No. 1 seed when they face the Detroit Lions on Saturday at Ford Field.
“I thought we rebounded very well from our performance from last week,” Smith said.
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