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Ryan, Falcons defeat Giants, keep playoff hopes alive

Behind another confident performance by Matt Ryan, the Atlanta Falcons (3-4) kept their playoff hopes alive on Monday evening, holding on to beat the New York Giants (1-6), 23-20, to close out Week 7. Here's what we learned:

  1. What started as a snoozefest between two apparent also-rans ended in a flurry of scoring drives and aggressive play in the second half. After punting thrice to open the game, the Falcons scored on five of their next six drives, paced by Ryan (379 yards, TD), his play-action prowess and his deft dispersal of targets; nine different Falcons had at least two receptions. Leading the attack was Julio Jones, who despite again failing to score a touchdown eviscerated the middle of Big Blue's defense (104 yards). After going up 20-6 in the fourth quarter, Atlanta finally surrendered a nine-play touchdown drive to the Giants and received the ball up eight with just under five minutes to go. The Falcons ground the clock down with a nine-play, three-minute drive and put their trust in former Raiders kicker Giorgio Tavecchio to knock in a 56-yarder to put the game out of reach. The Italian Stallion connected, putting Atlanta up 11 and rendering New York's ensuing T.D. drive moot. Just like that, the Falcons are back in postseason contention in the morass that is the NFC wild-card race.
  1. If it wasn't for Atlanta's sub-.500 record, Ryan would be right there in the MVP conversation. The 2016 Most Valuable Player is completing 71.1 percent of his passes and averaging 333.6 yards per game with a 15:2 TD-to-INT ratio. Even in this pass-happy, quarterback-friendly era we're living in, those numbers stand out as something special.
  1. Pay no attention to the man in the box score, the 399-yard passing game with no interceptions. Eli Manning was, is and will continue to be the problem in East Rutherford. Sure, when the offensive line gives him time to connect on deep crossing routes to a wide-open Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard in garbage time, Manning can do just that. But more often than not and in critical situations, with points on the line, the 37-year-old quarterback plays either flat-footed or scared, making the wrong decision at the worst times and setting New York back.

On no play was this more evident on Monday night than one during the Giants' red-zone possession at the start of the third quarter. Pat Shurmur trusted Manning on fourth-and-goal from the 1, calling a designed boot pass with Beckham running a flat route. Out of the gate, Beckham was open, beating the trailing linebacker by a few steps. But Manning hesitated and threw back inside to a double-covered third-string tight end. The missed opportunity was so egregious that cameras caught Giants coach Pat Shurmur exclaiming, "Throw the ball to Odell!" on the sidelines. In total, Manning finished 4 for 11 for 20 yards and a last-second score in the red zone. The Giants made five red-zone trips and scored just 20 points. 

The Giants are going nowhere with both Manning and this iteration of the offensive line on the roster, and there are no quick remedies at either position. A stat-packing fourth-quarter surge against one of the league's worst defenses doesn't disprove that theory.

  1. With Grady Jarrett back in tow, Atlanta's front seven took care of business against a vulnerable Giants' offensive line. Jarrett tallied his first two sacks of the season, while Jack Crawford and Takk McKinley abused New York's overwhelmed tackles, sacking Manning once each. The Falcons secondary broke down as the game wore on, but Dan Quinn should be encouraged by how his injury-riddled, much-maligned defense showed up in prime time.

In a related point, this affair was riddled some of the worst collective offensive line play you'll see in a prime-time game all season. Short its starting right guard, the Giants reshuffled their already porous front to ill effect. Manning was sacked four times and hit nine times. Nate Solder continues to look like a poor investment. Though Ryan fared better under pressure, he took a similar beating (three sacks, five QB hits) behind a Falcons line that lost starting guard Brandon Fusco halfway through the contest.

  1. Hey, look at the bright side, Giants fans. Your receivers made team history Monday night! Beckham (143 yards) and Shepard (167) became the first pair of Giants teammates with 100-plus receiving yards in a game since Week 17, 2014. OBJ also became the fastest player to reach 5,000 receiving yards (54 games), beating Julio by just two games.
  1. With the trade deadline approaching, Tevin Coleman made his case to remain on the roster. In his first game since backfield mate Devonta Freeman was placed on injured reserve, Coleman had his finest showing since Week 2, tallying 82 total yards on 13 touches, including a 30-yard between-the-tackles touchdown run.
  1. Left for dead by us media folks, Atlanta heads into its bye at 3-4, tied in the win column with seven NFC teams, including the Cowboys, Eagles, Bears and Packers. Behind the Rams and Saints, there's no clear dominant unit in the conference, so why can't the Falcons get right back in this thing? Atlanta still has five games left against wild-card contenders.

What about the Giants? The NFC East sucks! Yeah, no. They're done. Only one team (the 1970 Bengals) has started 1-6 and made the postseason.

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