ATLANTA – Chris Canty, all 6-foot-7 of him, wove his way through the New York Giants locker room in the Georgia Dome. The defensive tackle pulled his rolling suitcase through the tape, bandages, bottles and other wreckage of the Giants' worst loss in a decade. And when a reporter tried to get one more comment out of him, his reply was firm:
"I have no answers," he said, in a tone that did not invite further questions.
But there will be questions, not just of Canty but of the entire team, from head coach Tom Coughlin to kicker Lawrence Tynes, from Eli Manning to pretty much every member of the defense. The Atlanta Falcons destroyed the Giants on Sunday afternoon, hanging 34 points on the defending Super Bowl champions while allowing none. This marked the first regular-season shutout of the Giants in 16 years – back when Manning was in junior high.
"Atlanta was very, very good," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said after the game. "We were very, very bad. We came out and did exactly what we said we couldn’t afford to do, which is turn the ball over."
Manning threw an interception in the game’s first minute – to perpetual nemesis Asante Samuel, who’s now picked him off four times – and the quarterback didn’t get any better as the game went on. The final line on his worst game of the season: 13 of 25, 161 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and a 38.9 passer rating.
The rest of the offense wasn’t much help. Atlanta held the ball nearly twice as long as New York, and the Giants totaled only 97 yards rushing with a lost fumble. And the defense couldn’t stop Atlanta either on the ground or in the air, as Matt Ryan threw for three touchdowns and an 82 percent completion rate.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The Giants were coming off a thorough dismantling of New Orleans and Drew Brees, facing a team that they’d destroyed last season, a team with far less motivation than New York for playing hard. Or so conventional wisdom ran.
"I think the team was focused," Manning said afterward. "We had a good week of practice and we were prepared to play. We just didn’t make the best of the circumstances that we were in."
That passive-voice construction – "the circumstances that we were in" – belies the fact that the Giants were victims of their own incompetence. They had opportunities early; Atlanta's run defense in the first quarter had all the rigidity of finish-line tape. But missed reads, wrong routes, curious play calls and poor pass defense doomed the Giants by halftime.
The temptation for Giants fans is to shrug and say, no sweat, this is how we roll … show up late and win Super Bowls. Jason Pierre-Paul, for one, is having none of that past-history talk.
"[It] don’t mean nothing," he said. "Last year is last year. Forget that. I’m tired of hearing that. We’ve just got to go out and get it done THIS year."
Still, the Giants do have that late-bloomer rep, which is enough to give other teams pause. The Falcons are smart enough not to even hint at this being revenge for their ugly playoff loss in January, a 24-2 drubbing where the only points Atlanta could manage came on a Manning intentional-grounding safety.
Atlanta needs only one more win to clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, but even so, the Giants have a way of worming into the playoffs and then causing carnage once there. The last thing the Falcons want is to meet a motivated Giants team in January – it’s the reason Atlanta took two knees to close out the game. Domination is one thing, humiliation another.
So where does New York go from here? With two games left and a playoff spot in the balance, the Giants need to win out or hope that the Redskins, Vikings, Bears or Cowboys don’t go on a run. Before then, though, they’ve got some soul-searching to do.
"We’ll come in tomorrow," tight end Bear Pascoe said, "look at film, detail it out, see what we did right and what we did wrong – "
Wait a minute. What they did right? What was that, exactly?
Pascoe smiled a wry smile. “There must have been something. Some little thing. We’ll start there.”
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