Eli Manning shook off a slow start to put together a brilliant game on Sunday, leading his Giants to a 24-2 wild-card playoff victory over the Falcons and punching a ticket to Green Bay next week.
For the first 20 minutes of the game, it was a defense-dominant punt-fest, with the only scoring coming when Manning gave the Falcons a safety by committing intentional grounding in the end zone. But late in the second quarter — and throughout the second half — Manning did what Matt Ryan was never able to do: He moved his offense effectively.
Manning was superb, passing accurately and in complete command of his offense, while Ryan never really looked comfortable. Manning went 22-of-32 for 277 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Ryan went 24-of-41 for 199 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions. Giants receivers Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham both turned in big games as well, and Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw effectively shared the running load.
But this game was about much more than the offensive playmakers. In particular, it was about the Giants’ short-yardage defense, which consistently stuffed the Falcons: On five different occasions, the Falcons faced a third or fourth down with one or two yards to go. Only once out of those five plays did the Falcons pick up the necessary yardage. The Giants’ defensive line is outstanding, and it was fitting that the Falcons’ final offensive drive ended with Osi Umenyiora sacking Ryan.
Now the Falcons’ season is over, and it’s a season that has to be viewed as a disappointment, considering that there was talk about the Falcons being a Super Bowl team prior to the season. Atlanta has been to the playoffs three of the last four years, but hasn’t won a playoff game since 2004.
For the Giants, it’s on to Green Bay and a meeting with the Packers. The Giants will obviously be heavy underdogs against the team with the best record in the NFL, but then again the Giants were heavy underdogs the last time they took a postseason trip to Green Bay, four years ago. That time they beat the Packers in the NFC Championship Game and went on to win the Super Bowl. With Manning playing well and a great front four leading the defense, the Giants have a chance of pulling the upset at Lambeau Field.