ATLANTA - Time heals all wounds, yes, but so do touchdowns.
Eleven months ago, the Atlanta Falcons threw up — and yes, that is an apt description — a pathetic postseason performance against the New York Giants in a first-round playoff game. Behind three Eli Manning touchdowns, the Giants demolished the Falcons on that January afternoon 24-2. Manning was so generous on that day that he even gave Atlanta their only two points, on an intentional-grounding safety. It was an embarrassment, one that haunts the Falcons to this day.
Atlanta and its fans know that they'll be forever judged as a second-rate pretender of a team until the Falcons can manage to play deep into January. That Giants game was a perfect encapsulation of the book on the Mike Smith-Matt Ryan Falcons: solid regular season presence, zero postseason game.
As a result, Atlanta has had this date and this game circled on its schedule ever since January. Winning this game wouldn't be enough for Atlanta; no, the Falcons need to make the proverbial statement. And they did just that with a 14-0 first quarter that included an Asante Samuel pick of Manning, a highlight-worthy 37-yard Ryan pass to Harry Douglas, touchdowns by Michael Turner and Tony Gonzalez, and even a husky-fullback flip for a first down by Mike Cox. The eventual 34-0 beatdown was set early.
In short, this was exactly the kind of performance Atlanta could have used back in January.
Samuel's pick of Manning was what got the Atlanta scoring rolling, giving Ryan only 16 yards to cover to reach the end zone. It marked the fourth time Samuel has intercepted Manning, though Samuel will always be known for the one pick on Manning he didn't make. Playing for the Patriots, Samuel dropped a potential Manning interception in Super Bowl XLII; the very next play, Manning found David Tyree, and, well, you know what happened next.
Atlanta will never quiet its doubters until it can win several playoff games, preferably in one offseason. But starts like the one they had on Sunday against the Giants will give the Falcons momentum heading into January.
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