Giants’ Injury-Hobbled Defense Recovers to Spark Playoff Victory

The New York Giants’ defense, hobbled by injuries this season, recovered to hold the Atlanta Falcons’ offense scoreless for the first time in 73 games.

The Giants beat Atlanta 24-2 in the first round of the National Football League playoffs by shutting down the Falcons’ running attack, keeping quarterback Matt Ryan off balance with two sacks and twice stopping their opponents on fourth and one runs inside the 25-yard line.

“Our best effort so far this year,” Giants defensive lineman Justin Tuck said after the game. “The last three weeks -- do or die games for us -- we really came out and put things together, but it still feels like we can play better.”

Atlanta’s offense failed to score for the first time since 2007, as the Falcons’ only points yesterday came on a second-quarter safety when Giants quarterback Eli Manning was called for intentional grounding in his end zone.

It was the fewest points allowed by the Giants in the postseason since a 41-0 shutout of the Minnesota Vikings in the National Football Conference title game after the 2000 season. Falcons running back Michael Turner, who led the NFC and was third in the NFL with 1,340 rushing yards this season, finished with 41 yards on 15 carries against the Giants.

“They did win the line of scrimmage,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “There was no doubt about that.’”

The Giants defense has battled health issues all season, including season-ending injuries to linebackers Clint Sintim and Jonathan Goff, defensive tackle Marvin Austin, and defensive backs Terrell Thomas, Bruce Johnson and Brian Witherspoon. On the defensive line, Tuck and Osi Umenyiora both missed time with injuries.

‘Ups and Downs’

“We’ve had our ups and downs,” Tuck said. “It just seems like now we’re starting to click.”

The Giants, who had 48 sacks in the regular season, tied with the Baltimore Ravens for third-most in the league, sacked Ryan twice and had seven hurries. The Falcons’ offense, which averaged 377 yards a game during the regular season, was limited to a season-low 247 yards.

Atlanta was 4-14 on third down and 0-3 on fourth-down conversion attempts.

The game began with the Giants’ Victor Cruz dropping a pass across the middle, and both offenses struggled until the Falcons put together a 14-play drive that started at their own 10-yard line. It ended when Ryan was stopped on a quarterback sneak on the Giants’ 24. It was the first of three times the Falcons had the ball inside the Giants’ 25, only to turn the ball over on downs each time.

Making a Statement

“We came out today and said, ‘You can’t run the ball on us,’” Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who led all defensive linemen with 86 tackles during the regular season, said after the game. “We made a statement. Fourth-and-one, whatever, we are going to continue to play great football.”

The last time the Falcons offense went a game without scoring was a 31-7 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Nov. 18, 2007. The last playoff game in which an offense was held without a score was the 2001 Super Bowl, when the Giants lost 34-7 to the Ravens. Ron Dixon scored New York’s only points on a 97-yard kickoff return.

The Giants next travel to Green Bay on Jan. 15 to face the defending champion Packers in the second round. The Giants lost at home to Green Bay 38-35 on Dec. 4. Yet in the past three games, New York has allowed 30 points combined. They’re peaking at the right time, Coughlin said.

“If we can continue to play defense like that, we can make ourselves heard in this tournament,” he said.

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