By crushing the champion, the Falcons show they’re Super

"Yeah, baby! Take that 24-2 and give my regards to Broadway!" (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

"Yeah, baby! Why don't you take that 24-2 and give my regards to Broadway?" (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

So now we know: In addition to being a darn good football team, the Atlanta Falcons are the world’s best sandbaggers.

In working 13 games of varying quality, they’d dropped the hint that this team was no better than before and was, ergo, bound for the same one-and-done postseason fate. Turns out the Falcons were just being sly. “Go hyperventilate over somebody else,” they were saying, “while we win enough games to put ourselves in position. And then you can tell us again how we can’t beat anybody any good when it matters.”

On Sunday this unassuming crew dropped a 500-pound sandbag on the collective noggin of the reigning Super Bowl champions. Forty-nine weeks ago, the Falcons were overpowered 24-2 in the Meadowlands. But these Falcons, as was made manifest Sunday, are not those Falcons. These Falcons not only beat the haughty Giants by 34 points but pulled off a deft bit of role reversal.

Remember how the Falcons scored zero offensive points Jan. 8? The Giants scored zero points, period, on this given Sunday. Remember the three failed fourth-and-1’s of last season? Remember that two of those came against the Giants? The Falcons blunted three fourth-down bids this day, including fourth-and-1’s on consecutive first-half possessions.

The Falcons ran faster, hit harder, played smarter. “This game was won in preparation,” coach Mike Smith said, but it was also won in those dizzying days after Jan. 8, a time that saw the offensive and defensive coordinators leave and be replaced by Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan.

What happened Sunday was what should have happened in January, but the 2011 Falcons never found a mesh of talent and scheme. The 2012 edition has. On Jan. 8, the rookie Julio Jones caught seven passes for 64 yards to absolutely no effect. On Sunday, the same Jones caught six passes for 74 yards — and two touchdowns.

On Jan. 8, a defense overseen by Brian VanGorder watched benignly as Eli Manning threw for 277 yards and three touchdowns. On Sunday, the same E. Manning completed only 13 of 25 passes Sunday and saw two intercepted, including his first delivery of the game. Asante Samuel, imported from Philadelphia in April, jumped the route and sent the Falcons winging.

Said Smith: “Our disguise package in the passing game was good.” Of Samuel’s interception: “That was a little different look … That was a look Eli probably hadn’t seen from us.”

These 60 minutes were everything we’ve wanted to see from the Falcons, and to be fair we’d seen it all in snippets: Disguised D against Eli’s big brother in September; a flawless Matt Ryan in Philadelphia in October; a mighty effort in Tampa on November. We hadn’t, however, seen  it in the same 60 minutes. When finally it came together — when the defense surrenders no points on a day when Ryan’s quarterback ranking trumps E. Manning’s by 103.7 points — we saw a team that is every as glittering as its record.

“Our focus this week was heightened,” Smith said, and part of that was due to the egg his team laid in Charlotte last week, but surely more had to do with the calendar and the opponent. This was December, when the cream of the NFL is supposed to rise, and these were the Giants, who’d just won it all. This team had made “statements” before — beating Denver and Philly and Dallas and New Orleans — but nothing so forceful as this.

Said free safety Thomas DeCoud: “We proved we can dominate a legitimate playoff-caliber team. We proved we’re a force to be reckoned with.”

It was as if these coy Birds had been biding their time before unleashing a truly surpassing performance, and if so, who could blame them? They’ve had to hear all year how nothing will matter until they show they can win in the playoffs, and if this wasn’t quite a playoff game it was the next-best thing.

“Who’s ready to get back on the bandwagon?” tight end Tony Gonzalez said, but the Falcons’ wagon hadn’t gained much traction. For 3 1/2 months, national observers have looked for reasons to rank a half-dozen teams with lesser records above the one that started 8-0 and is now 12-2.

Said Gonzalez: “Honestly, I really don’t care (about conventional wisdom) … We know we’re a good football team. But national recognition and validation will come only when we get in the playoffs and play like we can.”

We’ve known for a while that this is a good team. We learned Sunday that it has the capacity to be great. Yes, the Falcons still have to do it in the playoffs, but they can and should. Somebody’s going to have to beat them in the Dome, and nobody has this year.

Gonzalez again: “I understand why the media doesn’t have the stomach to pick us.”

Oh, really? Now hear this: The defending NFL champ just lost here by 34 points — to the next NFL champ.

Further reading: The Falcons’ domination, adroit Asante and one great play.

By Mark Bradley

170 comments Add your comment

bus

December 16th, 2012
5:33 pm

Way 2 go Falcons!

antrobus

December 16th, 2012
5:36 pm

Mark Bradley

December 16th, 2012
5:38 pm

Somebody’s first, bus. Kudos.

MinnDawg

December 16th, 2012
5:46 pm

Great win, tho they still need to get the running game going.

captaindave

December 16th, 2012
5:53 pm

Mark: I have been worried about you…no gushing UGA column in over 48 hours now. Is everything okay? Wouldn’t you really rather write about a game over two weeks in the past?

riverscott

December 16th, 2012
5:56 pm

Finally a complete game win. Would’ve loved to see that last first-and-goal punched in, but a butt-whipping by 34 points is just as good as by 41. A full 3-phase, 60-minute domination. All week it’s “Falcons don’t do this; Falcons can’t do that; Falcons can’t beat a quality team; Falcons haven’t dominated anybody.” Consider last week forgotten, and the national media doubters pimp-slapped.

AlanFalcon

December 16th, 2012
6:00 pm

What a game, the Falcons showed what they were made of today down to a man- tonight I sit back, take a deep breath and relax.

By the way where are the Saints in the NFC South?

Gene

December 16th, 2012
6:01 pm

I hope we have more payback games in the next few weeks.

chuck

December 16th, 2012
6:02 pm

It’s never as good or bad as it seems, as evidenced by the last two weeks. Let’s temper the Super Bowl talk and take this one week at a time.

AlanFalcon

December 16th, 2012
6:02 pm

What a game, the Falcons showed what they were made of down to a man, by the way where are the Saints in the NFC South.

air of mendacity

December 16th, 2012
6:03 pm

Falcons should get home field with one more win and then it is highly likely that NFC championship is in the cards. I would not want to play them at home. The mighty 49′ers would even have their hands full. I agree with you Mark – Falcons are a nightmare at home. No dominant teams in NFC this year. Hoping for Super Bowl.

antrobus

December 16th, 2012
6:04 pm

Mark you stated right ” to the next NFL Champ”
I am getting my Super Bowl tickets now in NO!

DP

December 16th, 2012
6:07 pm

“to the next NFL champ”

Oh God.

air of mendacity

December 16th, 2012
6:09 pm

why no post?

Jamaaliver

December 16th, 2012
6:10 pm

We are an ‘adequate’ running back away from being an unstoppable offense.

Turner doesn’t fit Koetter’s style of running. (No FB, outside runs). It’s up to TD to find one who does in the offseason and convince Koetter to stick around for next season.

We are an elite team and have been foro years. Only thing left to accomplish is that long postseason run to the Lonbardi trophy!!!

air of mendacity

December 16th, 2012
6:11 pm

if we get home field which looks likely – then super bowl a real possiblilty – don’t even think mightly SFO can beat us at home – especially if we can run at all and get an early lead.

antrobus

December 16th, 2012
6:14 pm

Santa Claus please give us a Super Bowl win!

sam

December 16th, 2012
6:18 pm

I’ve always heard, in order to be The Man you have to beat The Man. Today, we did that knocking off the defending Super Bowl champions!

ATLIEN

December 16th, 2012
6:22 pm

Big big big big win. Let’s just stay focused. Regular season aren’t the playoffs but we’re trending fine. Need one more to secure home field.

Jimmy

December 16th, 2012
6:26 pm

We dont’ need respect.
We just need to keep winning.
I could care less about respect from pundits.

FalconJim

December 16th, 2012
6:28 pm

Hey “talking heads”, put this in your pipe and smoke it!!!!!! A complete game, in ALL phases!!! WOW!!!

Now, let’s keep the momentum going, right on into the Playoffs!!!

GO, YOU DIRTY BIRDS!!!!!!!

CT FalconsAFan

December 16th, 2012
6:28 pm

Agree with everything and am thrilled but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Mark. After all, weren’t you the one who crowned the Braves the best team ever after Game 2of the ‘96 World Series?

Rodster

December 16th, 2012
6:30 pm

Awesome win. I am pulling for the falcons. I hope they are hardened enough to win like this in the playoffs. That would truly be awesome.

Rodster

December 16th, 2012
6:30 pm

Awesome win. I am pulling for the falcons. I hope they are hardened enough to win like this in the playoffs. That would truly be awesome.

Dr. Henry -- Augusta

December 16th, 2012
6:32 pm

Atlanta 2, Mannings 0 – - – - To be SB champs I have a feeling we’ll have to beat them both again!!!

Hugh Jass

December 16th, 2012
6:42 pm

If the Falcons do win the Super Bowl it will break a string of agonizing seasons for fans of any sport in the state of Georgia. I was going to take the rest of winter and spring off because basketball in this state is so bad; however, I have to watch the Hawks because it is hilarious that their low budget roster is much better than their cap max roster from last year.

RETIRED

December 16th, 2012
6:43 pm

CAN YOU HEAR US NOW!

BigDawg

December 16th, 2012
6:44 pm

Give Snelling more chances! He looked great at the end of the game!!

1990_Champs_GT

December 16th, 2012
6:45 pm

Too early to give them the Lombardi yet, but this was a complete win. Second one since the Philly game.

Let’s just hope they’ve got about five left in them. THEN we can say that the next champs beat the reigning champs!

ramguy68

December 16th, 2012
6:47 pm

A really good game by the Falcons today. I wonder if their critics will now say that Giants weren’t that good anyway. Good almost complete game. Their rush game still isn’t very good but was adequate. I am still concerned about their 3rd and short game.

antrobus

December 16th, 2012
6:49 pm

Enter your comments here

ramguy68

December 16th, 2012
6:49 pm

I can’t wait to see Rodney Harrison is going to say tonight?

"Chef" Tim Dix

December 16th, 2012
6:49 pm

If the Falcons win the Super Bowl, they’ll have to build a new stadi…oh, uh, already gonna do that.

antrobus

December 16th, 2012
6:50 pm

Anybody know where I can get some Super Bowl tickets?

crowmeat

December 16th, 2012
6:51 pm

we are anything but an elite team..we have yet to W a play off game..Smith, when you are not man enough to to keep playing with time left on the clock at the half and you are not man enough to take the points at the end of the game, I question your ability as a coach!

ramguy68

December 16th, 2012
6:51 pm

I can’t wait to hear what Rodney Harrison has to say about the Falcons on Sunday Night Football.

extremus

December 16th, 2012
6:52 pm

Let’s enjoy and relish the results of today’s game, but temper that emotional high with a needed reminder: win or lose, the results of a single regular season game in the NFL can change drastically week to week. Just ask these Falcons. I’m delighted that they’re 12-2, on the verge of home field advantage, and thoroughly trounced the defending champs who eliminated them last year. But the criticisms about them coming into this game were justified; several big leads that turned into nail-biters after the Falcons had let up already this season, an embarrassing loss to a 2-9 division rival whom they came out flat and uninspired against, and then suddenly they get a fire under their butts and win 34-0 over the Giants.

Now I’ll be the first to agree that’s awesome and encouraging to see how this team responded from the coaching staff on down. But we need to remember just how schizophrenic the Falcons have been all year, from game to game and from half to half at times. They need to keep this level of performance up against Detroit and Tampa Bay the final two games, because if that doesn’t happen the same writers and fans who’ve questioned their heart and capability all year will do so again…BET ON IT.

We knew they’d be stung by last week’s loss and come out angry today, but raw emotion can only take you so far; now what I’m looking for is evidence that they not only can but WILL run up the score on opponents instead of allowing them to stick around. That killer instinct is a culture that is reinforced around the clubhouse, and teams like the Patriots have had it for years. Mike Smith has brought a culture of winning to a franchise that had never even had back-to-back winning seasons before, but now’s the time…NOW…for these guys to take it to the next level…a dominating, expecting to blow whomever they’re playing out level. Please guys, don’t dominate the Giants like this and then go have another “are they really as good as their record?” performance against the Lions. You have to keep making that statement week after week, because the same people singing your praises right now are a fickle bunch.

Sav FAN

December 16th, 2012
6:53 pm

Next up the Lions -take Matthew and Calvin to the woodshed and beat them to a pulp

antrobus

December 16th, 2012
6:55 pm

Bet on IT!
Falcons win Super Bowl in NO!

ramguy68

December 16th, 2012
6:55 pm

The Falcons had the ball deep on their side of the field at the end of the 1st half with about minute or less until 1/2 time. They got nothing on 1st down and then decided to let the clock run out. That’s good coaching. No need to chance a turnover and let the Giants have a cheap one.

AtlanGa Faldawgs

December 16th, 2012
6:57 pm

Giants missing their top 2 safeties and a corner…yeah, the Falcons won, big deal…wake me up January 1st, so I can watch your precious dawgs get choke slammed by Nebraska…bet the AJC already has the excuse generator running in preparation for January’s annual Falcons/Dawgs meltdowns…gotta suck…

AtlanGa Faldawgs

December 16th, 2012
6:59 pm

Stafford will be no problem next week…he learned the art of choking at UGA…

antrobus

December 16th, 2012
7:00 pm

Smitty has these guys pumped!
Way 2 go Smitty!

Clay

December 16th, 2012
7:02 pm

What’s most surprising about this win was the way two previous liabilities stepped up for the Falcons — offensive and defensive lines.

dean

December 16th, 2012
7:03 pm

Wow, Mark.

You just called the Falcons the next NFL champs.

Thanks for saying what I was thinking! But your arena (and risks of future ridicule)is a lot bigger than mine!

Mike "CHOKE" Dogs To Death

December 16th, 2012
7:04 pm

Sweet Revenge! HA HA :)

Dawgdad (The Original)

December 16th, 2012
7:05 pm

I have been watching the Birds since Lou Kiouwac (sp) put the first toe to leather, but this is the best complete game, I have ever seen them play. They did not take their foot off the gas and cost in like they have for all these many years.

BUT, as Chuck said above, they are never as good as they look at times and never as bad as they look other times, like last week. I still can not figure out how they could play so poorly last week and what that says about the future.

Hope to see more of Today’s team and never a repeat of last week.

Delbert D.

December 16th, 2012
7:12 pm

Chicago started 8-0 and were media darlings with their awesome defense. Looked to be the NFC’s big contender for the Falcons. Just lost again at home to the Packers to be at 8-6.

antrobus

December 16th, 2012
7:16 pm

We have gone to a higher level with this win.
And who is hurt? If we can keep our guys healthy we will win the Super Bowl!

Chiefdawg

December 16th, 2012
7:18 pm

Two Mannings down. Bring on Archie!