Time now for Arthur Blank to come clean.
It took over four decades for the Falcons to string together back-to-back winning seasons. And now they’ve done it four years in a row.
But at what cost? Did Blank make some sort of Faustian bargain with ol’ Beelzebub himself, trading winning seasons for playoff wins?
Preposterous? Perhaps. But how else to explain the Falcons’ bizarre, 24-2 playoff loss to the Giants on Sunday?
Could anyone have imagined that the Falcons defense would outscore the Falcons offense? Or that Eli Manning would prove a more effective runner than Michael Turner?
Or that the game would turn on the Falcons’ inability to line up and advance the ball a few feet when they needed to? Twice?
This wasn’t the proud Giant defense of Sam Huff, Andy Robustelli, Jim Katcavage and the rest of the unit that dominated the game in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. This was a crew that spent most of the season trying to find enough healthy bodies to field a team.
These guys lost to Washington. Twice. Allowed Seattle to amass 36 points. Seattle! Went down to New Orleans at the end of November and held the Saints to 49 points. Then held Green Bay to 38 a week later.
This is the team that stonewalled the Falcons on Sunday. Shut out the Falcons offense. Held Michael Turner to a mere 41 yards on 15 carries. Limited the Falcons to 247 yards, 52 of which came on a futile, meaningless drive during the game’s final three minutes. A drive which ended with a sack of Matt Ryan.
On the other side of the ball, this Giants team that always prided itself on running the ball and controlling the clock put up the worst rushing numbers of any team in the league this year. They had to win their final two games just to post a winning record and reach the playoffs.
This is the team that ran over the Falcons for 172 yards on Sunday, at 5 1/2 yards per pop. The team that amassed 442 total yards, with an unfathomable 337 in the second half. Saints numbers.
Amazing statistics, especially when you consider that the Giants rolled up all of 11 yards in 12 plays for minus-two points during their first four drives. After that, gangbusters.
How’s this for preposterous: it wasn’t Eli Manning’s arm that got the Giants untracked, it was his legs. Facing third and 2 on the Giants 23 early in the second quarter, Manning tucked the ball and lurched around left end for 14 yards.
The Giants had their first touchdown 63 yards later after converting a fourth and 1 on the Falcons 6-yard line. Brandon Jacobs, hit short of the line by Curtis Lofton, spun and dove ahead for the crucial first down.
Just as those two conversions set the Giants on their merry way, two failed conversions doomed the Falcons.
The first, on the first play of the second quarter, wasn’t apparent at first. Ryan was stuffed on a sneak, but thanks to the Giants largesse, two penalties resulted in a safety.
The second failure ended a nine-play, 63- yard drive with another failed Ryan sneak. This failure became immediately apparent. Hakeem Nicks converted a third and 3 pass into a 72-yard touchdown. Suddenly, the lead was insurmountable, 17-2.
But both stops proved huge in the grand scheme of things. “It’s basically a moment when the team is trying to prove it’s stronger than the other the team,” Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora told Bill Pennington of the New York Times. “And the defense is very aware of that challenge. Who’s the stronger? It can be a very pivotal moment.
“You could now look in their eyes after that and see they were stunned and unsure. Usually that means they’re going downhill. Those are like two turnovers. We took the ball from them.”
Added defensive end Justin Tuck, who called out the Falcons offensive linemen earlier in the week, “Short yardage is sometimes all about not being pushed around. Not back, not sideways. You just stand your ground. Basic football,” Tuck told Pennington.
“When you don’t make it on fourth down,” Manning told Pennington, “It’s tough to overcome. And, conversely, when your defense stops them, it’s a huge momentum swing.”
Giants coach Tom Coughlin joined the chorus in the opening statement to his post-game remarks. “I think today we played outstanding defense, and that set the tone for everything else that happened in the game. It was wonderful to see. The two fourth down stops were outstanding.”
“We ought to be able to move the ball less than a half-yard on a quarterback sneak,” Falcon coach Mike Smith told Pennington.
There. Simple explanation. A couple key plays turned the entire game.
Unless Arther Blank would like to offer a different excuse.