ATLANTA—When you’ve got two teams in a must-win game in Week 7, you’re looking at two pretty ragged teams.
And although the ratings for the “Monday Night Football” game between the Atlanta Falcons and the New York Giants will be just fine, if you care about that sort of thing, this wasn’t the kind of full-throttle, air-it-out, video-game-on-easy football we’ve enjoyed this season. This was a slog, plain and simple, and the Falcons came out on the high side, TK. Atlanta held on for a 23-20 win.
These teams rolled into Monday night carrying some well-earned 2018 reps: the Falcons, an unbalanced spectacular-offense, zero-defense team on the edge of a spiral; the Giants, an aimless, flailing mess already halfway down into the abyss. Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is having one of the best seasons of his career in some of the most futile circumstances; Eli Manning, his New York counterpart is suffering through some of the most miserable self-inflicted woes of his entire career.
Couldn’t you just feel the excitement?
First half: Exactly as expected
The first half played out pretty much exactly according to the expected script. Both teams traded punts, and punts, and more punts, six in all, before Ryan finally connected on a gem of a 36-yard pass to Austin Hooper, followed by a 47-yard gift basket touchdown to a wide-open Julio Jones … no, wait, strike that; Ryan found someone named Marvin Hall – who prior to tonight had all of five receptions on the year – in the end zone. (Jones’ continued touchdown-free streak this season remains one of the game’s great mysteries.)
Manning, meanwhile, playing under the watchful eye of his older brother Peyton, compiled a run of numerically impressive yet utterly irrelevant statistics: 13 of 16 passes completed, including his first nine in a row, the longest a deep pass to Sterling Shepherd for 38 yards that put the Giants in the shadow of the Falcons’ end zone.
But then, the Giants’ essential Giant-ness took over. Running a no-huddle offense, Manning floated a pass over the head of a wide-open Odell Beckham Jr. in the end zone, then took his fourth sack of the half to leave the Giants with only a field goal to show for their effort.
Second half: Atlanta pulls away
New half, same problems. Once again Manning found Shepherd for a long reception, a 53-yard strike that put New York on Atlanta’s 10. Once again, the Giants flailed in the red zone, Manning failing to get into the end zone on a naked bootleg, and the Giants inexplicably not running the mobile tree trunk that is Saquon Barkley right up the middle on third-and-one. Going for it all on fourth down, Manning could only manage a weak, impotent throw into heavy traffic that bounced harmlessly to the turf.
Given the chance to step on New York’s throat, Atlanta fumbled – literally, on a deep route by Jones – and the Giants once again carved up Atlanta’s secondary. This time it was Beckham, getting loose for two consecutive completions of 51 and 22 yards. And for a moment, if you squinted a bit, you could mistake this for a functional NFL offense.
But only for a moment. Manning missed on three straight red zone throws, and again the Giants settled for a field goal. The score at that point was 10-6, but it felt like 100-6 the way the Giants seemed incapable of finding the end zone.
The Falcons’ offense – perhaps affected by the stench coming from the opposite sideline – slowed down a notch; Ryan distributed the ball to 10 different receivers, but to diminishing effect. New kicker Giorgio Tavecchio, a replacement for injured stalwart Matt Bryant, knocked down a 50-yard field goal to stretch the lead back to a touchdown.
From there, it was like watching a boa constrictor get down to business. Another ineffective Giants drive and punt, another long Atlanta drive, this one punctuated with an off-tackle Tevin Coleman 30-yard touchdown run, and that was pretty much that. Manning orchestrated his most coherent and composed drive of the evening with less than seven minutes left in the game, but again missed an open Beckham in the end zone before handing off to Barkley for a dump truck-esque two-yard touchdown smash. Manning couldn’t connect with Beckham for an unconventionally-timed two-point conversion, leaving the Giants down 20-12.
The Falcons finished off the game with a clock-chewing, Giant-timeout-consuming drive that ended with Tavecchio hitting a 56-yard field goal, the longest of his career. That put Atlanta up 11 with less than two minutes remaining.
The Giants put together a quick drive and scored on an Odell Beckham touchdown catch with a few seconds left, after two Manning quarterback sneaks were unsuccessful and valuable time bled off the clock, and then scored a two-point conversion. But the Falcons recovered the onside kick to seal the win.
The Falcons now head into the bye week with an opportunity to reinvigorate a season that had once seemed lost. The Giants, meanwhile, are now 1-6 heading into a divisional matchup with the NFC East-leading Redskins, and facing a world of problems under center. It’s going to get worse before it gets better for New York, and judging from Monday night, it’s not going to get better for a long time.