Atlanta sent a message early in the NFC Wild Card game against the Giants last postseason, and New York rerouted it right back.
In field goal range at the Giants' 24-yard line, the Falcons decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 in a 0-0 games. Additionally, they had the break in between quarters to mull it over. Unfortunately for them, so did the Giants. On the first play of the second quarter, Linval Joseph, Michael Boley, and a pile of Giants met Matt Ryan at the line of scrimmage on the quarterback sneak.
"It's a playoff run, right? I mean we just gave it our all," Joseph recalled Wednesday. "At that point, at that time of the season, it was now or go home. So we just rose to the occasion and everybody played their responsibility and got it done."
The Falcons did, however, score their only points on the following drive when Eli Manning was called for intentional grounding in the end zone, resulting in a safety. But they didn't exactly learn their lesson.
On yet another fourth-and-1, Atlanta again called a quarterback sneak on the Giants' 21 late in the third quarter. Trailing 10-2 at the time, Ryan was met by another stack of Giants.
"I was actually surprised every time," Joseph said. "It was just like [they could take] three points, three points -- you only have two points. So the second time was like, 'Dang, they're really hungry.' We love it. It pumped us up. Then we stopped it twice. That set the tone of the game. So from that point on, we just kept humming."
What made it even more shocking to Joseph was his defense had proven itself in that department, thwarting four of those short fourth-down conversion attempts in the regular season. The Giants were even better when you add in third down numbers, where they were ninth in the NFL in 2011 on third- and fourth-and-1 conversions (57.6 conversion percentage).
It's a point of pride for any defense, and it's something the Giants have carried over to this season.
New York is currently tied for seventh in the NFL (with Green Bay), holding opponents to 15 for 28 on third- and fourth-and-1. The success on short yardage situations has been a major reason why the Giants defense ranks eighth in points against but 25th in yards allowed.
They may bend, but they don't always break.
"We practice for it every week, thinking a team won't run it, like try to go for it on fourth-and-1, fourth-and-inches or whatever," Joseph said. "But it's all about the team. The D-line, linebackers, you've just got to play together because to be up there in the top, you have to have discipline, you have to give it all, you've got to sacrifice your whole body, and you have to play as one."