You almost could hear the muttering and under-the-breath comments from Atlanta all week:
This time will be different.
We're a better team now.
Wait until we get them in our building.
We won't be embarrassed again.
The Falcons weren't saying those things aloud, in public, but they at least had to be thinking them or talking about them behind closed doors. The Giants know they were, because the Giants had the same thoughts the previous week.
On Sunday the Giants switch roles, from the purveyors of revenge to the possible targets of it. The Falcons (11-2) may have the best record in the NFC, may have won their last 10 games at the Georgia Dome and may be the only team in the NFC standings with a little doohickey next to their name to indicate a clinched playoff berth, but the Giants know they'll be looking for some payback after last season's 24-2 smackdown on Jan. 8 in an NFC wild-card game at MetLife Stadium.
"I think it's still in their minds, obviously," Victor Cruz said. "We beat them pretty good in the playoffs, so I think that's going to be some bulletin-board material for them. We have to understand that and be able to match that intensity in their building."
"I think it's definitely going to stick with them," Antrel Rolle said. "If the tables were turned, it would definitely stick with me. Those guys are going to come out and be hunting for us."
Rolle should know. He was one of the Giants who last week downplayed the idea of revenge against the Saints for last season's 49-24 regular-season loss in New Orleans (not to mention the 48-27 loss there in 2009), but he admitted after Sunday's 52-27 victory that the lopsided losses served as motivation.
This week all of that emotional ferocity swings to the opponent. Well, most of it. This time the Giants are not looking to avenge but to advance. Unlike the NFC South champion Falcons, the Giants (8-5) are very much in a fight for the NFC East title. By the end of Sunday, they could be anywhere from two games ahead with two games to play to third place in the division after tiebreakers.
"They're going to be upset about it, but it doesn't matter," Osi Umenyiora said. "At the end of the day, we have to win this game, and I think it's more important to us than it is to them at this point."
The Giants have done pretty well this season when teams have come at them looking to make amends for last season. They've already faced two of their playoff opponents from last season in the 2012 regular season, teams that publicly dissed the Giants' accomplishments, and beat the Packers and 49ers by a combined score of 64-13.
The Falcons have mostly sidestepped the idea of payback.
"It's one of the motivations that pushes you when you fall short in the playoffs," Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan told reporters this past week, "but we're a different football team than we were last year and they're a different football team than they were in the playoffs last year. I think it's important because of what's in front of us. We have an opportunity to do what we want to do in the regular season, and it starts Sunday."
The Giants know that code. They wrote that code. The Falcons have been simmering for 11 months, waiting for their opportunity to reverse one of the most disappointing games in franchise history.
And the Giants? Well, they remember that game too.
"Hopefully we'll be able to repeat the same thing," Umenyiora said of the virtual shutout. "Is it possible? Who knows. But we're going to try."