Well, that was easy.
After a season in which every game seemed to come down to the final minutes, with every win drenched in fourth-quarter drama, the Giants began their playoff march with a dominating 24-2 win over the Falcons Sunday at MetLife Stadium. The only hard part was getting to the postseason in the first place.
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"We always talk about it in the locker room, how we find a way to make it close," Justin Tuck said. "We always have to have these nail-biters. This game was one of those good ones where you knew you had it early in the fourth quarter and you started to feel the stadium rocking and you allowed yourself to step back and enjoy it for a minute. That was a great feeling."
The fourth-seeded Giants said during the week that they felt like a Super Bowl team. On Sunday, they showed it. The defense suffocated the No. 5 Falcons and Eli Manning escaped from some early-game bumps -- including a safety for intentional grounding from the end zone -- to throw three touchdown passes, two to Hakeem Nicks.
The Giants will visit the top-seeded Packers at 4:30 p.m. Sunday in a rematch of their Dec. 4 home loss.
It was the Giants' first postseason win since they beat the Patriots Feb. 3, 2008, in Super Bowl XLII. It was their first home playoff win since a 41-0 rout of the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 14, 2001.
The Giants have a recent history of going one-and-out in their home playoff games. This time it was one-and-rout.
"The fact that we had lost to Carolina so badly in '05 and then a dismal game I'll never forget in 2008 against the Eagles," guard Chris Snee said of those clunkers. "So it was nice to win a home game, keep the crowd in it the whole time and really win it the way Giant football is always talked about -- with great defense, being able to run the ball and make big plays."
The game turned when the Falcons couldn't come up with an inch and the Giants responded with 72 yards. From the Giants' 21, Matt Ryan tried his second fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak of the game and again was stuffed, this time by Jason Pierre-Paul and Chris Canty with 4:16 left in the third quarter. The Falcons were trailing 10-2, so a touchdown and two-point conversion would have tied it. Instead they turned the ball over on downs.
Three plays later, Manning hit Nicks on a slant over the middle. He turned upfield, splitting the defense like an egg and taking it for a 72-yard TD and a 17-2 lead.
Another short-yardage stop -- Chase Blackburn stuffed Michael Turner on a third-and-1 -- gave the Giants the ball back, and they drove for a 24-2 lead when Manning hit Mario Manningham on a 27-yard post route.
Manning ignited the offense in the first half with his legs, not his arm. On third-and-2 from his 23, he scrambled away from pressure and ran for 14 yards. Five plays later, Brandon Jacobs took a handoff 34 yards to the 15 behind blocks from Snee and Kevin Boothe.
Jacobs was stuffed on third-and-1 from the 6 and nearly was tackled for a loss on fourth-and-inches, but he spun away for the first down. On the next play, Manning hit Nicks with a 4-yard pass for a 7-2 lead.
Not only were wins hard to come by for the Giants this season but so was enthusiasm. Until the last two regular-season games and this one, the Giants had a habit of coming out flat for big games. That seems to be behind them now, which could not happen at a better time.
"It's gonna be tough to beat us," Tuck said of the Giants' defense. "We have a lot of talent on defense, a lot of speed, a lot of athleticism. Hopefully we can continue to build on that."
It's not just the defense that came together for the virtual shutout. The Giants, who had the worst running game in the league, found their legs with 172 yards. That's 50 more than any game all season. They also had two runs of at least 30 yards after having only two all season.
With a dominating defense and reborn rushing attack, it must make the Giants feel confident just two wins away from a Super Bowl appearance. "We feel as tough as any NFL team in the league," Bradshaw said.
So tough that they made it look easy.