A funny thing happened Monday night at Mercedes Benz Stadium – an actual competitive and close football game broke out. The Atlanta Falcons held on to defeat the New York Giants in primetime 23-20.
The Falcons as you know, are an injury-riddled conundrum, while the Giants the past two seasons have been a total grease fire. And it’s a shame that these two NFL teams, who have been perennial playoff contenders for most of the last two decades to looks so bad at times.
Two seasons shy of a Super Bowl run and one from a divisional playoff loss the Falcons defense has been handicapped by major injuries in the secondary and linebacking corps that are not just sprains but season-enders, while the Giants as a whole just look awful and don’t know what with an aging Eli Manning.
What looked to be a high-scoring affair turned out to be the opposite. Matt Ryan continues to put up MVP numbers even though the team’s record says otherwise.
Ryan threw for 379 yards completing almost 80 percent of his passes with one touchdown and no interceptions. For the season he’s thrown 15 scoring passes and only two interceptions and 2,335 yards that is actually ahead of his 2016 MVP season at this point. The only problem is now their record is 3-4 and the undefeated Rams’ Jared Goff and Todd Hurley are getting all the attention – and to a degree deservedly so.
But this prime time game didn’t start that way, however. It was a defensive struggle for well over a quarter, as both teams did not move the ball well. Both teams made it to midfield their first couple of possessions and then it was like they hit a brick wall. Ryan, to a degree, was hit by a brick wall as he was sacked three times in the first quarter. To the Falcons’ O-line credit, after the first quarter Ryan wasn’t sacked again even though he did feel the heat.
With the sudden defensive struggle, the Falcons finally broke the ice and crossed midfield as Ryan hit TE Austin Hooper for a 36-yard gain. Hooper has been gaining Ryan’s confidence as the season has gone on, as he’s become the QB’s “go to” guy in key situation that have seen Julio Jones and rookie sensation Calvin Ridley facing double coverage.
The surprise to everyone – especially critics was the defensive play of Atlanta. The names on IR or ruled out for the Falcon D looks like a Who’s Who of Pro Bowl players and teams have run roughshod over them. If it wasn’t for such a high-scoring offense the Atlanta record would look much worse. A lot was expected of New York Giant running back sensation Saquon Barkley, who many expected to run all over the Falcon D never did – not even close. Barkley is a dual threat similar in the vein of Marshall Faulk – if doesn’t beat you with his legs, he will with his receptions. The Falcons are the first team to him the star back to under 100 yards of total offense this season.
One of the subplots of the game was Eli Manning. The NY signal caller has been heavily criticized and under a lot of scrutiny since last season. Many have called the man who brought two NFL titles to the Big Apple in his career to either be benched or traded. The offense has struggled all season and even tonight it wasn’t until there was 4:47 left in the game that the Giants scored a touchdown. They scored a garbage touchdown in five seconds remaining on a Manning to Odell Beckham Jr. pass, but other than that the offense didn’t execute when they needed to.
That being said, Manning stepped up his game in wake of Atlanta shutting down Barkley. He passed for 399 yards as Beckham and Sterling Shepard combined for over 300 receiving yards. However despite Manning completing 71 percent of his passes he was sacked four times with Grady Jarrett getting two, whose presence back in after missing last week made a difference. Takk McKinley and Jack Crawford rounded out the total. In a side note, and not a nice one – I had to keep double-checking to see if Vic Beasley was on the field. He wouldn’t have been missed as he had one tackle during the game – a far cry from his league leading 15 ½ sacks to lead the league he had in 2016.
And while Ryan was impressive as well as Jarrett perhaps the biggest pleasant surprise for the Falcons was Giorgio Tavecchio. Tavecchio was signed at the beginning of the week after kicker Matt Bryant injured his hamstring kicking the 58-yard field goal to clinch last week’s win.
Tavecchio’s signing was a blessing for the Falcons as he earned his keep hitting three field goals including a 56-yarder that pretty much put the game out of reach at 23-12 with 1:55 to play. In what could add intrigue to an already drama-filled season it will be interesting to see what the Falcons do with him and Bryant as the 43-year-old Bryant, who is money in the bank for ATL and has been since coming here in 2009, has been injured a lot and dealing with hamstring injuries on and off the past couple of seasons. Could Tavecchio be the team’s future or was this game just a fluke for him?
The Falcons inched closer to .500 with the win and will get a much needed bye this coming week before going on the road for a couple of weeks landing in Washington to take on the Redskins on November 4. Kickoff that day is scheduled for 1pm and the game will be aired on Fox.
– Dave Weinthal
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