NFL Nation: 2012 Falcons-Giants RR

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Thoughts on the Atlanta Falcons' 24-2 playoff loss to the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.

What it means: This was much more than just a loss. This was devastating for the entire Falcons organization. Yeah, give the Giants credit for winning the game. But give the Falcons plenty of blame for losing. This team had sent out a strong signal that the Super Bowl was the goal when it traded up to draft Julio Jones and signed free-agent defensive end Ray Edwards. The Falcons didn’t even come close to the Super Bowl. For the second straight year -- and the third time in four years -- the Falcons lost their opening playoff game.

When you have those expectations and those results, you can’t expect owner Arthur Blank to remain patient forever. Coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan never have won a postseason game. Their jobs aren’t in jeopardy -- yet. But everyone around them (assistant coaches, offensive linemen and receivers who can’t hang onto passes) is suddenly on the hot seat. This loss will prompt some changes in Atlanta.

Fourth-and-nowhere: Smith elected to go for it on fourth-and-inches twice when he could have kicked field goals. That didn’t work either time. Smith also failed when he went for it in overtime against the Saints during the regular season. Anyone notice a theme here? I think you’ll be reading a lot more about this in my follow-up column.

What happened to the offense? This was a legitimate question during the regular season, but it really showed in the playoff game. The Falcons have no offensive identity, no idea whether they’re a running or passing team. Against the Giants, they weren’t either; they simply were a terrible offense. That’s a far cry from those lofty expectations I mentioned above.

Big players make big drops: Atlanta receiver Roddy White led the NFL in drops during the regular season. He escalated that in the postseason. White dropped at least two passes, possibly three and maybe even four. I’m not sure how or why, but White went from being one of the league’s most sure-handed receivers in 2010 to a drop machine this season. I’m not saying White’s done in Atlanta by any means. But he’s getting up in age, he comes with a high price tag and it wouldn’t totally shock me if he’s dangled for trade in the offseason.

Total mismatch: Atlanta’s offensive line was totally destroyed by the Giants’ pass rush. Not surprising, really. The Falcons built this line for run -- not pass -- blocking. Ryan was bad, largely because he had no chance. The Falcons already had given up on Sam Baker at left tackle. Journeyman replacement Will Svitek got exploited and showed he’s not a long-term answer. The Falcons need to get a left tackle. Problem is, they won’t have a first-round draft pick (that went in the deal for Jones), and the list of left tackles coming available in free agency isn’t too promising. Remember what I mentioned about perhaps shopping White. Oh, and Joe Hawley doesn’t look like the answer at right guard.

What’s next: An offseason of change at the Falcons’ Flowery Branch facility. This team has a ton of talent, and it won’t be blown up. But there will be significant tweaks in different areas.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the New York Giants' wild-card round playoff victory over the Atlanta Falcons at MetLife Stadium.

What it means: The Giants' formula worked. They believed they came into the playoffs playing defense and running the ball as well as they have been at any time this year, and they went out and played their best defensive game and best rushing game of the year. They knew that the key would be to pressure Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan with their front four and they did that. And when they were having trouble in pass protection, they were able to switch to the run game to keep the Atlanta front four off of Eli Manning.

Nicks' turn: The Giants' big-play receiver the past few weeks has been Victor Cruz, who had a 99-yard touchdown catch on Christmas Eve against the Jets and a 74-yard touchdown catch last week in the division-clincher against the Cowboys. This time, it was Hakeem Nicks who delivered the backbreaker against the Falcons, catching a short Manning pass with less than three minutes left in the third quarter and taking it 72 yards to the end zone for the score that put the Giants up 17-2.

Smothering: New York's defense pitched a shutout, as the Falcons' only points came on a safety and their offense never got near the end zone. The Giants got pressure up the middle with defensive tackles Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard. They stuffed the Falcons on two key fourth-and-short situations (the second of which almost immediately preceded the big Nicks play). And while they lost two key secondary pieces in Deon Grant and Aaron Ross to injuries, the defensive front made sure Ryan didn't have a chance to take advantage of it.

Ground game surfaces: The Giants ranked 32nd in the 32-team NFL in rushing yards this year, but this looked like a different team. They'd been better running the ball over the final five games of the season, but this was a dominating rushing performance. Brandon Jacobs ripped off a key 34-yard gain and converted a fourth-and-1 on the Giants' first scoring drive. He and Ahmad Bradshaw split carries and both ran with power and determination behind an offensive line that's blocking for the run better and better each week.

Looking ahead: Those injuries to Ross and Grant -- which are a concussion and a groin injury, respectively, could be a problem if they linger into next week. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is far more mobile than Ryan is, and he should be able to buy more time to find his receivers deep in the secondary even if the Giants can pressure him the way they hassled Ryan. But that's a worry for next week. Right now, the Giants are flying high and into the second round.

What's next: The Giants travel to Green Bay, Wis., where they will play the 15-1 defending Super Bowl champion Packers at 4:30 p.m. ET next Sunday. A victory would put the Giants in the NFC Championship Game against either the Saints or 49ers.




Sunday, 2/2