Fourth-down stops kill Giants' momentum
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ATLANTA -- The Giants lost by 34 points to the Falcons, but the true measure of the difference between the teams boiled down to a single yard. Three times the Giants failed to convert a fourth-and-short, leading to their first regular-season shutout in nearly 20 years.
By the time they started gambling on those fourth-down plays, the Falcons had mounted a 17-0 lead in the second quarter.
"The thinking was it was fourth down and we needed to do something to generate a lift for our sideline as it was all going one way," coach Tom Coughlin said. "That didn't work out."
The Giants' first attempt came on fourth-and-1 from the Falcons' 32. They handed the ball to David Wilson on the left side but he was held for no gain.
"It was just an inside zone," Wilson said of the play. "They were just more physical than us . . . It closed up. When you look back, you wish you could have done this or done that, but, you know, it was just closed up."
On their next possession, the Giants drove to the Falcons' 11, but on third-and-1, Kregg Lumpkin was held for no gain on a run to the left. On fourth-and-1 with 1:14 left in the half, the Giants went to a shotgun formation and Eli Manning rolled right. It looked as if he could have run for a first down or at least moved toward the line of scrimmage to create indecision in the secondary, but he threw to Victor Cruz, and Asante Samuel was able to bat the ball away.
The Giants missed on a third fourth-down attempt on their first second-half possession. After driving to the 33-yard line with the help of an illegal high hit on Cruz by the Falcons' Chris Hope, Manning hit Domenik Hixon for a gain of 8 yards on third-and-10 to reach the 25. That set up another fourth down, and the Giants went from the shotgun again. Manning tried to check it down to Lumpkin on the right, but it was batted down by Jonathan Babineaux.
Although he wasn't on the field during the first two fourth-down attempts because of a hip injury, guard Chris Snee said those were plays the Giants needed to make.
"If you're in a fourth-and-short, you should be able to get it," he said. "That's always our mentality. As an offense, you like that confidence [to go for it] . . . We want to score touchdowns, and in that situation, we should be able to get it."
Entering the game, the Giants had gone 4-for-7 on fourth-down conversions.
If any two teams recognize the significance of those short-yardage plays -- and the impact that being stopped can have on an offense -- it would be the Giants and Falcons. Last season's playoff game between those two teams, a 24-2 victory by the Giants, was defined by two fourth-down stops by the Giants' defense.
"Absolutely gigantic," Falcons coach Mike Smith said of the stops Sunday, particularly the first two. "Those fourth-down stops are like turnovers. We know that when you make [turnovers] as a football team, it can change the momentum. It multiplies when you stop them on defense."