ATLANTA — The Atlanta Falcons wanted to make a statement.
Boy, did they deliver one Sunday to the defending Super Bowl champions.
Coming off an ugly loss and criticized for failing to impress even when they won, the Falcons turned in their most well-rounded performance of the season with the playoffs approaching. Matt Ryan threw three touchdowns passes and the defence handed New York its first regular-season shutout since 1996, routing the Giants 34-0.
“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.”
It sure showed.
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.
“I felt like I was seeing the field well,” Ryan said.
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 would ensure that any post-season contests before the Super Bowl are held at the Georgia Dome.
Manning had his lowest-rated game since 2007 for New York (8-6), which dropped into a first-place tie with Washington and Dallas in the NFC East. The Redskins and the Cowboys both won Sunday.
The Giants also went 0-for-3 on fourth down and missed a short field goal.
“Atlanta was very, very good. We were very, very bad,” New York coach Tom Coughlin said. “There’s no excuse for what happened here.”
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 post-season game since Ryan took over as the quarterback in 2008, going 0-3.
But one thing the Falcons never seem to do anymore is lose two straight games.