Twice inside the Giants 25-yard line, Falcons coach Mike Smith twice tested the mettle of New York's defense, needing to see if the last two weeks of the regular season were just an aberration.
They were not.
Both plays were quarterback sneaks. Both were unsuccessful.
The first, a fourth-and-one at the 24 to start the second quarter, Matt Ryan was met by linebacker Michael Boley and defensive tackle Linval Joseph, driving the quarterback down for no gain. The game was scoreless at the time, and while it led to a Giants safety three plays after the turnover on downs, the second go around was more costly for the Wild Card winner from the NFC South.
On fourth-and-one, this time with the Giants up by eight points, Smith called for the same play with 4:21 remaining in the third quarter. The Falcons line couldn't get a push, and Jason Pierre-Paul and Chase Blackburn made them 0-for-2 on the day.
"They tried to sneak the ball, I saw the quarterback try to hit the B gap, and I just smashed him and drove him back," Pierre-Paul said. "That was the stop…It was a big play. It was a game-changer knowing they could have got down and scored. It basically was a game changer stopping them, and everybody was excited. The offense was getting ready to go back out there and fire up."
Smith explained the decision after the game.
"It was less than a yard, it was about half a yard, maybe even less than that," said Smith, who dropped to 0-3 in the playoffs with the Falcons. "That was the play, again, we go through and sequence those things all through the week and felt like that was the play we had up and we just didn't execute it. We felt like at any point and time we ought to be able to move less than a half-yard with the quarterback sneak."
The Giants took over at their own 21, and after two plays to Jacobs (a run and pass), the Giants opened up the game. On third-and-three, Hakeem Nicks did his best Victor Cruz impression and caught a short pass over the middle from Eli Manning, taking it 72 yards for a touchdown.
Instead of a potential Atlanta field goal to cut the deficit to five points, the Giants now had a 17-2 lead with a minute to go in the third. The Falcons actually went 0-for-3 on fourth down conversions, but the third was when the game was out of reach on their last possession. That's when Osi Umenyiora sacked Ryan on fourth-and-10, giving the ball back to the Giants with a 22-point lead and a minute to play.
"The two fourth down stops were just outstanding and both were in the shadow of the goal line as well," Tom Coughlin said. "That really inspired everybody, to be honest with you. Those plays that our defense made really inspired everybody."
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