Giants lose control of their NFC East destiny in 34-0 loss to Falcons

Atlanta Falcons defensive end Kroy Biermann sacks Eli Atlanta Falcons defensive end Kroy Biermann sacks Eli Manning. (Dec. 16, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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ATLANTA -- This was a loss that went beyond the 53 men on the Giants' roster. It went beyond the current coaching staff. It went beyond Sunday's performance.

"That's embarrassing not just to us," defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka said after a 34-0 loss to the Falcons, "but to anybody who's ever worn a Giant decal on their hat or shirt or anything like that."

And yet . . . the Giants still have a playoff pulse. They may not have looked much like a postseason team against the team with the best record in the NFC, and they lost control of the division lead for the first time since September, but if the Giants can win their last two games against the Ravens and Eagles, they are guaranteed an invitation to the party in January.

It might be as a wild card. It might be as NFC East champion. It might be anywhere from the No. 3 to No. 6 seed, playing anywhere from home to Washington to Seattle. But they'd be in with two more wins even after their abysmal performance.

Those hats and shirts that Kiwanuka mentioned? Don't throw them out just yet.

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"[Our fate is] in our hands in the fact that we have two games left and we have to win those two games," Eli Manning said after being shut out in the regular season for the first time. "Whatever else happens after that, we don't know and can't control, but we can control these next two games. We know we need to win these two."

That's what the mathematics dictate after wins by the Redskins, Cowboys and Vikings and a loss by the Bears, all tied with the Giants at 8-6. The Giants lose tiebreakers with their NFC East rivals based on division records but would hold tiebreaker edges in the wild card because of a better conference mark.

The better question regarding the two wins is: Can they? After a trouncing like this one, it's hard to picture the Giants as a playoff-caliber team.

Of course, they have been riding this wave of inconsistency for most of the season, looking like a dynasty in the making against the 49ers, Packers and Saints and turning in duds against the Bengals and Falcons.

"Consistency," Tom Coughlin said a week after a 52-27 win over the Saints. "Where was it?"

The Giants lost badly in Week 15 in 2011, too, and won the Super Bowl, so it is possible. "I've been here too long," Osi Umenyiora said. "I've seen this too many times before to have any doubt in my mind. I know it can be done. But talking about it isn't going to do nothing. We have to go out there and get it done."

Antrel Rolle said the 2011 run means "absolutely nothing," adding: "We are a different team right now. We got to go out and fight. We are a better team than what we showed today."

They didn't show much. The last time the Giants were shut out in the regular season was Dec. 1, 1996, in a 24-0 loss to the Eagles. The Giants were blanked by Carolina, 23-0, in a wild-card game on Jan. 8, 2006. It was the first loss for the Giants in Atlanta since 1978. For the Falcons (12-2), it was their 11th straight win at the Georgia Dome.

Manning's interception on the Giants' second play of the game set up Atlanta's first touchdown, a 1-yard run by Michael Turner. Tony Gonzalez caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to cap an 80-yard drive and give the Falcons a 14-0 lead. A field goal off a second interception made it 17-0, and the Giants had to start gambling.

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They went for it on fourth-and-1 in the second quarter, but David Wilson was stuffed. Just before the half, they again tried to convert a fourth-and-1, this time from the Falcons' 11. Manning's pass was incomplete. They tried a third fourth-down conversion in the third quarter, but by then the game was out of hand. It hardly seemed to matter that Manning's checkdown pass was batted away.

But their playoff hopes were not so easily blocked. Coughlin spoke of a six-game season after the bye. Two weeks ago, he spoke of a four-game season with four must-win games. Now there are two games left, and the Giants actually sound excited.

"Next Sunday can't get here fast enough," Justin Tuck said. "What's the girl in 'The Wizard of Oz' and Toto? Dorothy? I wish I had some red shoes and I can wish myself right to next Sunday, because it can't get here quick enough."

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