Some days are diamonds. Some days are rocks. One week after scoring 52 points in a gem of a victory over New Orleans, the Giants left a goose egg on the scoreboard in one of their worst and ugliest losses in memory.
The Giants were outplayed in all phases and were not in the game for even one of its 2,400 seconds and fell hard to the Atlanta Falcons, 34-0, in the Georgia Dome.
"Atlanta was very, very good. We were very, very bad," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "There's no excuse for what happened here."
"That's not Giants football," defensive end/linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said. "That is embarrassing not just to us, but to whoever wore a Giants decal on their hat or shirt or anything like that."
The Giants fell to 8-6 and into a three-way tie for first place in the NFC East with the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins, each of whom won Sunday. Because the Giants have the worst division record of the three at 2-3, they are technically in third place.
They return to action next Sunday in Baltimore, which clinched a playoff berth today despite losing to Denver, 34-17.
"What is the girl in 'The Wizard of Oz'?" defensive end Justin Tuck said. "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."
"We have to win those two games," quarterback Eli Manning said. "What else happens after that, we don't know and can't control."
The shutout loss was the Giants' first in the regular season since Dec. 1, 1996, when they fell in Philadelphia, 24-0. They had played 256 consecutive regular-season games without getting shutout, which was the NFL's third-longest streak (behind Denver's 322 and Indianapolis' 302). It was the Giants' worst loss since a 44-7 thrashing suffered at Minnesota on Jan. 3, 2010.
"I don't know what to tell you," defensive end Osi Umenyiora said. "When you play like the way we played last week. And to play like this, this week, it's always going to be a mystery to me. But, hopefully we will be able to play like we did last week, next week."
How did this this happen? Well, Manning threw an interception on the game's second play and another pick in the second quarter, leading to 10 Atlanta points. Kregg Lumpkin also lost a fumble in the fourth quarter when the Giants were trying to avoid the shutout.
"Anytime you turn the ball over three times it's a tough situation," Manning said. "We didn't take advantage of opportunities that we were in."
Coughlin had the offense go for it on fourth down three times when they might have kicked field goals and the offense came up short each time.
"We went for it, that was all my call," Coughlin said. "The thinking was it was fourth down and we needed to do something to generate a lift for our sidelines as it was all going one way and that did not work out, either. It was very, very disappointing."
The defense did not force a turnover and provided little resistance to Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, who completed his first eight passes and 23 of 28 (81.2 percent) overall, for 270 yards and three touchdowns. The Falcons also rushed for 129 yards.
Lawrence Tynes missed a 30-yard field goal attempt, his third miss in as many weeks and usually a chip shot in a dome. David Wilson fielded the opening kickoff six yards deep and instead of taking a touchback to put the ball on the 20, he ran it out to the 13. Two plays later, Manning was picked off and the rout was on.
The Falcons improved to an NFC-best 12-2. They scored on Ryan touchdown passes of 12 yards to Tony Gonzalez and 40 and three yards to Julio Jones, Michael Turner's one-yard touchdown run and Matt Bryant field goals of 38 and 19 yards.
The Falcons increased their lead to 24-0 on the first series of the second half when Ryan and Jones hooked up for a long touchdown pass. On first down, Jones lined up on the left side, got a step on rookie cornerback Jayron Hosley and caught Ryan's perfectly-thrown ball in the end zone.
The score capped an eight-play, 80-yard drive that included Turner's 14-yard run and a 10-yard pass to Jones just prior to the touchdown.
On their next possession, the Giants drove to the Atlanta 25-yard line where, for the third time, they tried to convert a fourth-down opportunity. And for the third time they failed. Manning's pass to Lumpkin was knocked down at the line by defensive lineman Jonathan Babineaux.
The Falcons then drove 73 yards to set up Bryant's 19-yard field goal, which increased Atlanta's lead to 27-0 with 10 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
They completed the rout with 4:47 remaining in the fourth quarter, when Jones caught his second touchdown pass.
The Giants trailed, 17-0, at the end of a first half in which Manning threw two interceptions, Tynes missed a 30-yard field goal and they twice came up short on fourth-down conversion attempts.
The 17-point halftime deficit was the Giants' largest since they trailed at New Orleans, 21-3, on Nov. 28, 2011.
It was their first scoreless half since Nov. 6, 2011 at New England (where a 0-0 tie became a 24-20 Giants victory) and the first time they were shutout in the first half and trailed since Sept. 19, 2010 at Indianapolis, where they were down 24-0 and lost, 38-14.
Atlanta scored only three points in the second quarter, but it was still a bad 15 minutes for the Giants.
On the Giants' second offensive play of the quarter, Manning's pass was intercepted – just as his first pass in the first quarter was. Safety Thomas DeCoud picked off the throw intended for Hakeem Nicks and returned it five yards to the Giants' 27. But the Falcons lost a yard on Harry Douglas' third-down end-around and Bryant came on to kick a 38-yard field goal.
On the Giants' ensuing possession, Lumpkin's 40 rushing yards helped the Giants move to the Falcons' 32-yard line. But on fourth down, Wilson ran off left tackle and was stopped for no gain.
The Giants forced an Atlanta punt and again put together an impressive series, starting at their own 10-yard line and traveling to the Falcons' 11 – where they faced another fourth-and-one. Tom Coughlin eschewed a field goal attempt that could have given the Giants their first points and instead kept his offense on the field. But Manning's pass for Victor Cruz fell incomplete.
The Giants trailed, 14-0, at the end of a first quarter that was as one-sided as the score indicated.
On the second play of the game, Manning's pass for Nicks was intercepted by Asante Samuel, who returned the ball six yards to the Giants' 16-yard line. It was the first time Manning's first pass in a game was picked off since Nov. 1, 2009 at Philadelphia, where the perpetrator was Samuel.
"He just jumped it," Manning said of Samuel. "That's what he does and done a number of times. I'll have to look at it on film to see exactly how it happened. I thought I had room and threw it, and he did a great job of jumping on the ball."
Turner covered the 16 yards by himself, on runs of three, eight, four and one yard, the last off right guard for the touchdown and a 7-0 Atlanta lead just 2:28 into the game.
The Giants responded with a nice drive, moving from their own 20 to the Falcons' 12-yard line. But Manning's third-down pass fell incomplete and Lawrence Tynes was wide left on a 30-yard field goal, his shortest missed attempt in more than three years.
Atlanta took advantage of the miscue by driving 80 yards in 10 plays, including Ryan's 12-yard touchdown pass to Gonzalez, who made a terrific leaping catch in the end zone with Will Hill directly in front of him. The big play on the series was a 37-yard pass to a wide open Harry Douglas up the left sideline. That gave Atlanta a first down at the Giants' 11-yard line. Gonzalez scored two plays later.
"We have two games to play," Coughlin said. "There is a lot of fire and a lot of character in that locker room. We have to come back from a devastating loss and shake it off somehow, someway. We have to comeback as competitors and prepare ourselves for a very difficult game next Sunday and then one to follow (at home vs. Philadelphia). With these two games left, unfortunately we are 2-2 in this six-game schedule and we needed to be better than that."
They have two chances to get better and give themselves a chance to play in the postseason.