Certainly, no one can accuse them of lacking a quality win.
Not after the pounding they gave the defending Super Bowl champions on Sunday.
Matt Ryan threw three touchdown passes and the defense handed New York its first regular-season shutout since 1996, carrying the Falcons to a 34-0 rout of the Giants with the playoffs approaching.
"They have the hardware and they have the history," Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud said. "This is a good benchmark game to play against a championship-caliber team."
The Falcons (12-2), who have already clinched the NFC South, moved a step closer to home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs. One more win
-- next Saturday at Detroit, or the regular-season finale at home against Tampa Bay
-- would ensure that any postseason contests before the Super Bowl are held at the Georgia Dome.
Despite their lofty record, Atlanta has received plenty of criticism for struggling to beat inferior opponents. A 30-20 loss to last-place Carolina the previous week only seemed to reinforce the notion that the Falcons are headed for another short stay in the playoffs. They have yet to win a postseason game since Ryan took over as the quarterback in 2008, going 0-3.
"We love the haters, man," said Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel, who had the first of two interceptions against Eli Manning. "The haters keep us going. So keep your hate coming. We love it. It makes us play with a chip on our shoulder."
For the Giants (8-6), it was a miserable performance when they had control of their own destiny, at a time of year when they normally play some of their best football. They dropped into a three-way tie for the NFC East lead when both Washington and Dallas won.
"Atlanta was very, very good. We were very, very bad," New York coach Tom Coughlin said. "There's no excuse for what happened here."
Julio Jones caught a couple of scoring throws from Ryan, who broke his own franchise records for completions and passing yards in a season. Matty Ice finished 23 of 28 for 270 yards.
Manning, on the other hand, was 13 of 25 for 161 yards, leaving him with a dismal 38.9 rating
-- his worst since a Dec. 23, 2007, win at Buffalo.
The Giants went 0 for 3 on fourth down and also missed a short field goal, putting them in a vulnerable position heading into next Sunday's game at Baltimore.
"We know that we can overcome losses and we can bounce back," Manning said. "The team has good leadership and veteran guys and we understand the importance of this next game. I think the mindset will be good and we'll have a great week of preparation and go out there and take our best shot.
The Falcons extended the NFL's longest active streak since consecutive defeats to 49 games, going back to the 2009 season.
"Our focus was heightened from other weeks," coach Mike Smith said. "We've got a lot of great leaders and mentors in that locker room. They took the message from the meetings and took it out on the field."
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After thoroughly dominating the Giants, the Falcons have surely sent a resounding message to the rest of the league: beware of this team in the playoffs.
"Last week everybody was talking smack about us," defensive end John Abraham said. "We just continue what we're doing."
Manning threw his first pick on the second play of scrimmage, setting up a quick, 16-yard touchdown drive for the Falcons. Coughlin made a curious call late in the first half, passing up another short field-goal attempt when his team was almost 2 yards shy of the marker. Samuel batted down a short pass intended for Victor Cruz, sending Atlanta to the locker room with a 17-0 lead and all the momentum.
"I was thinking we needed to engender a lift for our sideline," Coughlin said. "That did not work out either."
It was all Falcons after Lawrence Tynes missed a chip-shot kick from 30 yards, ruining an impressive second possession by the Giants. Atlanta took it 80 yards from there, with Ryan going to Harry Douglas on a 37-yard gain for the biggest play. Then, on third-and-11 from the 12, Ryan went to his favorite target, Tony Gonzalez, for a 12-yard touchdown.
"We have two games left and we have to win those two games," Manning said. "What else happens after that, we don't know and can't control."
Early in the second half, the Falcons blew it open on Ryan's 40-yard touchdown pass to Jones down the left sideline. Finally, after a drive that used up more than 9 minutes in the fourth quarter, Ryan went to Jones for a 3-yard TD.
The Giants turned it over one more time in the closing minutes, finishing off their first shutout in the regular season since a 24-0 defeat at Philadelphia on Dec. 1, 1996. The performance came just a week after they put up 52 points on the New Orleans Saints.
NOTES: The Giants wore "SHES" decals on their blue helmets in honor of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Also, Cruz dedicated the game to 6-year-old victim Jack Pinto, a big Giants fan. ... New York's last shutout loss came in the playoffs after the 2005 season, a 23-0 setback at Carolina. ... Ryan has thrown for 4,202 yards and 27 touchdowns this season.
Press; By PAUL NEWBERRY]
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