EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Too much polish, too much poise and too much defensive pressure was way too much for the Atlanta Falcons to overcome Sunday, and the New York Giants broke open a tight contest in the second half on their way to a 24-2 playoff victory at MetLife Stadium.
In earning their first postseason win since Super Bowl XLII nearly four years ago and their first at this venue, the Giants earned a trip to Green Bay and will face the Packers in a divisional-round game Sunday.
Michael Vick was their quarterback in 2004.
This season, they had the misfortune of going up against a Giants defense that has found a way to start playing together after spending a good portion of the season in separate pieces.
"It seems like we're just synchronized," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "That's why we struggled earlier. It seemed like when we started to struggle on defense, individuals started showing up, me included. Now it really doesn't matter who gets the credit ... and when we're on the same page, it's going to be tough to beat us.
"We have a lot of talent on defense, a lot of speed, a lot of athleticism, and hopefully we can continue to build on that."
What Tuck described was on display for all 79,909 in attendance and a nationwide television audience to see. The Falcons were held to 247 yards, 14 first downs and 3.9 yards per play.
With no running game to turn to, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was forced to throw 41 times. He completed 24 for 199 yards.
"They won the battle of the line of scrimmage," Coach Mike Smith said, "and that was one of the musts we had to accomplish, and we didn't get that accomplished today."
Eli Manning, on the other hand, was mostly brilliant throughout, despite having very little time to make decisions in the pocket. He was 23 for 32 for 277 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. His play, more than anything, allowed the running game to finally get going and eventually wear down the Falcons' front seven.
"He has done an outstanding job of that all year," Coach Tom Coughlin said. "We didn't always have great protection, but he was able to maneuver and get some things done, probably not as clean as we would like when we look at the tape, but nevertheless."
Brandon Jacobs carried 14 times for 92 yards, his second highest total of the season, and Ahmad Bradshaw had 63 yards in 14 carries. In the end, the Giants had gained a season-high 172 yards on the ground, 97 after an intermission in which a series of adjustments were applied, enabling them to turn a defensive scrum into a runaway.
Fittingly, though, the first score of the game was a safety, which occurred when Manning intentionally grounded a pass launched from the end zone in the second quarter.
Not even the momentum gained from stopping the Falcons on fourth down three plays earlier could prevent it.
But the Giants took the lead for good on their next offensive series, which began after Smith elected not to go for it again on fourth and one.
The running game, stuffed for the better part of the first 20 minutes, played a prominent role too, as Jacobs rumbled for 34 yards on a misdirection play to set up a first down at the Atlanta 15. Manning scrambled for 14 yards on third down to keep the Giants from going three and out on that series. Jacobs then picked up another first down on a fourth-down carry, despite being initially hit behind the line of scrimmage.
The ultimate payoff came on the next play, when Manning hit a well-covered Hakeem Nicks with a four-yard touchdown pass.
Still, the Giants had only 128 yards and the Falcons 127 at halftime.
"Truthfully, we just did some simple [adjustments]," Giants center David Baas said. "It wasn't anything crazy, but we just did things a little bit better ... and we stuck with what was working and that's the whole deal. You've got to be able to adjust.
"That's the NFL. You know they're going to throw things at you and see how you react. And truthfully, in the beginning, it wasn't very good on our part. We didn't react very well. But we came out in the second half and we reacted better."
On its first offensive series of the third quarter, New York had a chance to make it 14-2. Instead, the Giants settled for a field goal and a 10-2 advantage after Chris Owens broke up a third-down pass intended for Nicks at the goal line.Turned out not to matter, because Nicks later in the quarter turned a short pass completion into a 72-yard touchdown, giving the Giants a 17-2 lead.
In the fourth quarter, Manning finished off an 85-play drive with a 27-yard strike to Mario Manningham, and Zak DeOssie added the extra point to set the final score with 2 minutes 55 seconds to go.