It was a perfect fall day for football in East Rutherford, NJ, at fifty-five degrees, with a light breeze blowing, fans wearing sweatshirts and warm jackets, and grills providing warmth at pregame tailgate gatherings in the parking lots outside Metlife stadium. A sense of optimism surged through the pregame crowd, fueled by the Giants two game winning streak. Midway through the third quarter, when Falcons running back Antone Smith took a short pass 74 yards for a touchdown for a 20-10 lead, it appeared that the Giants had once again fallen victim to special teams errors and inconsistent play, but this team has shown character, and scored the last 20 points of the game for a 30-20 victory.
Eli Manning had another interception free performance, but wasn’t as sharp as he’d been in the past two weeks. Completing 19 of 30 passes, he found Rueben Randle and Odell Beckham for touchdowns, but many of his passes were slightly behind or out of the target’s reach. Beckham, seeing his first action of the season, was sharp in his debut, catching a 15 yard touchdown and creating match up issues for the Falcons defense with his speed. Mike Nolan, Falcons defensive coordinator, shifted coverage in the third quarter after Beckham got loose behind their secondary. Manning missed him on what would have been an 81 yard touchdown, but the play is on game film and will effect how upcoming opponents play this Giants offense, which will only help open things up more.
Rashad Jennings left the game in the early in the third quarter when he sprained his MCL coming out of a pile up. While he think it isn’t “too serious”, it could keep him sidelined until after the Giants week 8 bye. Spencer Paysinger left the game with a hamstring injury and didn’t return. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was in and out of the game with an ankle injury, but said it’s nothing he’s concerned about. Finally, Zack Bowman required help getting out of his uniform after the game and was getting “precautionary” x-ray for an undisclosed injury.
The Giants won the coin toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff, Quintin Demps again took the ball out of the Giants end zone and failed to make it back to the 20 yard line. It appeared that after the week 2 game against the Arizona Cardinals, this bad habit was corrected, but Demps did it twice in two opportunities, and Preston Parker once in one. Demps also failed to make it past the 20 on his second return and Parker fumbled his after a hard hit by Falcons linebacker Nate Stupar. This is a simple fix that must be again put in place and reinforced every time the kick return team takes the field.
Manning brought the Giants out at their own 17 yard line and appeared to pick up where he left off against Washington, gaining a first down on Jennings run and quick pass to Preston Parker. Incompletions to Cruz on a tipped pass, an overthrow to Randle, and a Jennings third down give-up run stopped the drive and brought out Steve Weatherford to punt. He blasted a 60 yarder to the Devin Hester at the Falcons 11, who faked out Zak DeOssie and Jameel McClain and ran 25 yards before being foced out of bounds at the Falcons 36 yard line. The Giants tempted fate by kicking to Hester against their questionable coverage teams and almost paid the price immediately.
Matt Ryan is among the most skilled passers in the league and has a arsenal full of weapons, but today lacked protection, with three of his five starting offensive linemen different from just a week ago. Cullen Jenkins stuffed a Steven Jackson run of first down, pressure from Jonathan Hankins up the middle forced an incompletion to Julio Jones on second down, and Jason Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka stopped running back Jacquizz Rodgers well short of the first down marker on the dump off pass on third down, forcing an Atlanta punt.
It was clear from the initial sequence of plays that the Falcons game plan was short passes with some runs mixed in to counter their cobbled together offensive line. Given the struggles the Giants have had covering running backs, it was a sound strategy to attempt. Outside of Jones, who saw 16 of Ryan’s 45 attempts thrown his way, running backs were the main target of the Falcons passing game, with Ryan completing 14 of 17 for 169 yard and his only touchdown to his backs. When throwing to wide receivers, he was 15 of 24 for 147 yards, 0 touchdowns and his only interception. He was 11 of 17 when targeting Jones, good for 105 yards. Tight ends were primarily used to help block and saw no completions in 2 attempts.
After the Falcons punt, the Giants took over at their own 17 and Manning went to work. Beckham was on the field for the first time, and caught the pass of his career, a 7 yard comeback against cornerback Desmond Trufant. That play followed a 42 yard pass to Parker, when the Falcons failed to cover him. Parker ran a go against a blitzing Falcons defense and Manning found him for the huge gain. Only Parkers’ slipping prevented a touchdown. Mixing short passes to Jennings and Randle with Jennings runs, and the pass to Beckham, the Giants moved the ball the the Falcons 3 yard line. After Randle couldn’t get both feet down on a high pass in the back of the end zone, Manning found him just over the goal line two plays later for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead. The 11 play, 80 yard drive took 5:06.
Atlanta answered right away with a 9 play, 80 yard drive that featured an 11 yard run by Jackson and completions to Jones for 11, 12, and 22 yards. Ryan got rid of ball quickly and faced little pressure as tight end Levine Toilolo or an extra offensive lineman were used to provide extra blocking on most plays. The play calling was sharp and had Ryan roll out in both directions and focus on his best receiver, Jones, who lined up in all three receiver spots. He caught passes against Prince Amukamara, Antrel Rolle, and Trumaine McBride on the drive. Jackson, in his second yard with Atlanta, scored the tying touchdown on a sweep left that was well blocked, the key block on Jacquain Williams, who was completely taken out of the play by Toilolo. Jones blocked Bowman to give Jackson clear passage into the end zone. Mark Herzlich gave chase from the other side of the field, but was unable to close on Jackson before he scored. Williams was also blocked out of the 11 yard run by Jackson earlier on the drive.
The subsequent kick was the Parker fumble, he was contacted at the 19 yard line by Stupar, fumbled forward, and the Falcons recovered at the Giants 21 yard line. Eric Weems popped the ball out while Parker was reeling back from the high, but clean, blow from Stupar. Spanning the quarters, the Falcons moved the ball to the Giants 4 before Mike Patterson stuffed Jackson for a two yard loss on second and goal and a Williams stayed home on a shovel pass to Antone Smith on third and goal, forcing the Falcons to kick a 20 yard Matt Bryant field goal for a 10-7 lead. Given the prime field position provided by yet another special teams blunder, holding Atlanta to a field goal was a victory for the Giants defense.
Following another return out of the end zone that failed to make the 20, the Giants again started from their own 17 and went three and out when Preston Parker was forced out of bounds a yard short of the first down on 3rd and 11. Weatherford’s second punt was towards the sideline and Hester attempted a dangerous lateral to cornerback Josh Wilson to keep the ball in play, but the Giants played it well and the Falcons took over at their own 26.
Ryan started to move the Falcon offense again, mixing Jackson runs with passes to Smith and rookie running back Devonta Freeman and Jones. Atlanta reached the Giants 38 before the back to back incompletions to Jones, who was blanketed by Rodgers-Cromatie forced a punt. Matt Bosher pooched the ball 19 yards and Parker fair caught it at the Giants 19 yard line.
Jennings gained 24 yards on two back to back runs to the left behind flawless blocks by Will Beatty and Weston Richburg. Following shorter runs to the right by Jennings and Andrew Williams, Manning found Randle for 18 yard on 1st and 10 from the Giants 47. Randle ran a slant, caught the ball 8 yard off the line of scrimmage and ran 10 yards before the Falcons tackled him. A sack by former Giants Osi Umenyioura against Will Beatty stalled the drive and forced a 49 yard Josh Brown field goal that tied the game at 10 with 3:40 to go in the half. The Giants drive covered 50 yards in 9 plays and took 5:13 off the clock.
On the sack, Beatty had Umenyioura blocked well, but the defensive end turned linebacker changed directions quickly, appeared to surprise Beatty, who slipped and fell, allowing Umenyioura a clear path to Manning. After the sack, Umenyioura’s exacerbated celebration brought down a chorus of boos from the crowd. He reacted as if he made the game winning play, rather than registered his first sack of the season. While it was a great play, Umenyioura is nothing more than a situational pass rusher who’s best playing days are well behind him.
Hester returned Brown’s kickoff, a short hopper that he picked up at the 6, to the Falcons 25, and Ryan went back to the play mix that had proved successful throughout the first half. Quick passes to Jones and his running backs, along with a 22 yard strike to Roddy White against Bowman let the Falcons efficiently move the ball 73 yard in 11 plays to the Giants 2 yard line before back to back incompletions, including a third down breakup of a pass to White by Amukamara, forced another 20 yard Bryant field goal with 3 second remaining on the clock. Atlanta took the lead 13-10.
The Falcons squib kicked to try to run out the three seconds and failed, giving the Giants the ball in good field position at their own 35 with 1 tick left on the clock. Rather than try a deep pass and see if they could draw a flag from one of the most penalty inclined officiating crews in football, Tom Coughlin inexplicably opted to kneel down on ball and go into the half trailing by three. The man has forgotten more about football than Giants360 will ever know, but this decision boggles the mind. Team limit their rush in these situations, and Manning throws a great deep pass. There was nothing to lose by taking a shot. Fortunately, it wound up being a non-issue, but it’s still a nagging question.
Despite their cobbled together offensive line, the Falcons out gained the Giants in the first half, 219 to 148, and had 14 first down to the Giants 9. Ryan was a highly efficient 17 of 23 passing for 166 yards, and the Falcons out rushed the Giants 53 to 45. Only tough play in the red zone, holding the Falcons to field goals on two of their three trips, kept the Giants in this game as the Falcons were proving every bit as prepared and well coached as expected. They would receive the second half kickoff.
Starting at their own 15 yard line, Atlanta gained a quick first down when Ryan found Jackson under heavy pressure from Pierre-Paul and Patterson. The Giants appeared to generate a much needed turnover when Demps intercepted a third down pass, but he fumbled the return back to the Falcons. It would not have counted anyway as a defensive holding penalty on Amukamara, against Jones would have wiped out the play. The penalty was not visible, nor was it replayed, but Jones was complaining that his arm was held when the play concluded. Based on where the flag was thrown, he would not have been in position to catch the ball. Atlanta recovered Demps’ fumble for a first down at their own 44.
The Giants defense stopped them in three plays, and when Bosher came out to punt on 4th and 4, Ed Hochuli finally stuck the Giants. On the punt, Pierre-Paul dove in front of Bosher. The punter’s momentum carried him into Pierre-Paul and he took an obvious dive. Hochuli, considered by Giants360 to be the worst referee in the league, made a judgement call of Running into the Kicker, a five yard penalty, enough for a first down. Fortunately, the Giants defense again held, but it was an obvious blown call, the only one of the game, although the crew’s reputation for throwing ticky-tack penalty flags was again warranted.
Jennings first run of the second half was his last of the game, it was an eight yard gain, and while he took a hard hit from from safety Kamel Ishmael, he didn’t stay on the ground or appear to twist his knee. He was wearing a brace today and walking with a limp. A run by Williams got the Giants a first down, but later, on third and two, the Giants tried a pass rather than continuing to run the ball, it was behind Randle, and Weatherford came out to punt. His 67 yard punt went for touchback.
Following a 6 yard pass to Jackson and a run for no gain, Ryan, again under heavy pressure from Damonte Moore, McClain and Pierre Paul, threw to Antone Smith in the flat. He slipped a tackle from Antrel Rolle and turned on his after burners, outracing Rodgers-Cromartie, Amukamara, and Demps along the left sideline for his 74 yard touchdown and a 20-10 Falcons lead. The game appeared to be slipping away from the Giants midway through the second quarter as the offense was not able to find it’s rhythm against the Falcon defense.
Beckham changed the Giants fortunes on a first play of the subsequent drive as he slipped behind cornerback Robert Alford and had three steps on the Falcons Defender. Manning, with cornerback Josh Wilson blitzing and not picked up, overthrew the ball, but Beckham’s speed caused the Falcon defensive adjustment.
Williams, now at running back for the injured Jennings had more room to run, and Beckham was a more frequent target as the Falcons were playing off of him. Manning mixed both and a pass to Randle to drive the Giants 81 yards in 9 plays, including a 26 yard pass interference call drawn by Beckham. There was even a 14 yard completion to Williams, who has struggled catching passes, but appears to be improving in that area. The 3:32 drive culminated in a 3 yard touchdown run by Williams and cut the Falcons lead to 20-17. Williams ran for the touchdown behind power blocking by John Jerry and J.D. Walton and plowed through linebacker Paul Worrilow for the score. This followed a brilliant 11 yard power run to set up the first and goal behind Walton and Richburg. This offensive line is beginning to gel quite nicely.
The score energized the Giants defense which came out and completely shut down the Falcons offense, stuffing back a run, swallowing up a swing pass to Freeman, and pressuring Ryan into a bad pass to Toilolo. Ayers broke through a block left guard Harland Gunn, making his first start after being promoted from the practice squad, forcing to Ryan to throw the quick incompletion. The Giants sent Beckham back to return Bosher’s punt, but he fair caught it, giving them the ball at their own 36 with 0:24 left in the 3rd quarter and momentum as their ally.
The Giants success with Beckham on offense continued as they ran the ball on seven of the next ten plays, for 25 yards, and Manning completed passes to Cruz and Beckham for 26, setting them up with a 3rd and 3 at the Falcons 15. Beckham ran a fade route and Manning floated the ball up where the rookie was able to jump and pluck it for his first professional touchdown. The 11 play, 64 yard drive took 5:22 and gave the Giants a lead they would never relinquish at 24-20.
Brown’s kickoff went out of the end zone, and the Falcons sent out 6 offensive linemen and Toilolo to counter the Giants surging pass rush. After back to back completions gave the Falcons 2nd and 1 at the 29, a stuff of Jackson and a Pierre-Paul near sack – it easily could have been called intentional grounding – forced a punt. Bosher’s short offering went out of bounds at the Giants 45 and Manning was back in business with his best field position of the day. Mixing Williams runs with completions to Cruz and Adrien Robinson, Manning put the Giants into a manageable 3rd and 3 at the Falcons 31. Under pressure from the Falcons, his pass to Randle was low, but catchable. Randle couldn’t scoop it in and Josh Brown came in to kick a 50 yard field goal to give the Giants a touchdown lead at 27-20 with 5:01 left to play. The drive was 7 plays, 24 yards and took 3:22.
The Giants pass rush continued to hound Ryan on their next drive, which again started at the 20 following another Brown touchback. On first down, Ryan was flushed right by Pierre Paul only to find Moore waiting for him and threw the ball away. Jackson was stuffed by Jenkins on a second down draw play. On third down, Ryan was again flushed, this time by Moore and found Hester for ten yards, bring up fourth and 1. Mike Smith elected to go for it, and Jonathan Hankins effectively ended the game by blasting past Gunn for the sack, giving the Giants the ball at the Falcons 19 with 4:34 remaining.
Running 5 straight plays, the Giants forced the Falcons the take all of their time outs, and Andre Williams had his signature run of the game when he plowed over Trufant on his way to gaining 8 yards on 3rd and 7. Curiously, on third and goal at the Falcons 7, with 2:11 left, Coughlin opted to have Manning center the ball for a field goal rather than try to have Williams run it one more time and put the game completely out of reach with a touchdown. The decision was again irrelevant given the outcome, but the decision making left Giants360 scratching out collective heads. Brown came in and kicked a 26 yard field goal to give the Giants a 10 point lead at the two minute warning. The drive took 2:26, covered 10 yard in 7 plays and drained all of Atlanta’s time outs.
The Falcons gained some garbage time yards, but failed to score, giving the Giants the 30-20 victory. Manning was off target with nearly 1/4 of his passes, but completed them when they counted and was able to overcome an off afternoon to lead the Giants to victory. Williams hard running in relief of the injured Jennings and Beckham’s magical speed and hands foreshadowed the future of the Giants offense and given the Giants a three game winning streak heading into next Sunday Night’s showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles. A victory will give them a share of the NFC East lead.
What will derail the Giants Express? Two words: Special Teams. Devin Hester came within one missed or broken tackle of taking his first punt return for points. Preston Parker’s fumble nearly shifted the game in the Falcons favor as Demps kickoff return fumble did the Cardinals game three weeks ago. It’s a simple fix – if the ball is in the end zone, kneel down for a touchback. The juice is not worth the squeeze bringing it out of the end zone.
Beckham’s presence already has started to transform the Giants offense into it’s next iteration. As he gains strength and confidence, running will become easier, and underneath passing routes will be open for him and the other receivers. Larry Donnell, fresh off of his three touchdown performance on Thursday Night Football against Washington faced double and triple teams all afternoon, especially in the red zone, and was held without a catch. Manning threw one pass in his direction. Beckham’s presence will free him up as well.
Tomorrow, Giants360 will do our regular Tuesday deep stat dive as well as review the best of the coaches press conferences. The live tweet from Metlife was a fun and productive experience, and the feedback received from our following was overwhelmingly positive. Many thanks to those who interact and helped provide information lacking due limited access in the stands. Our Twitter followers have nearly doubled in the past month and it’s flattering and a blast to bring you original and exciting content both there and on Giants360.com. Many thanks for reading.