A game between two teams on the outskirts of the playoff picture lived up to the hype, but not in a good way. On Monday night, the Falcons and Giants played in one of the worst games of the 2018 season, a game that looked like it belonged to another era of football.
To keep their playoff hopes alive, the Falcons beat the Giants 23-20. The final margin doesn’t do the game justice. It never really felt like the Giants were going to win or force overtime. They scored eight points in the final 10 seconds of the game to adorn an otherwise dreadful performance.
By now, you should have a sense of how this game unfolded. It lived up to the hype in the sense that the game sucked as much as both of these teams have sucked all season long. Despite the fact that both teams trotted out bottom-six defenses, points were hard to come by for most of the game, because both offenses looked like they’d never practiced together and were learning a new playbook on the fly.
Both teams constantly shot themselves in the foot with sacks. Whenever either team looked like they were on the verge of piecing together a productive drive, a sack would set them back and neither team was good enough to overcome second- or third-and-long situations. The defensive lines manhandled subpar offensive lines, both of which entered Monday night ranked in the bottom half of the league in terms of pass protection.
In the first quarter, there were four sacks and zero points scored. By the time halftime rolled around, there were seven sacks and 13 total points. In a league that modified its rules to cater to offenses and guarantee high-scoring games, the Falcons and Giants were out there making both defenses look like the 1985 Bears.
The strange thing is, these two defenses entered the week ranked 27th (New York) and 31st (Atlanta) in DVOA. These two offenses have Odell Beckham and Julio Jones. Scoring shouldn’t have been this difficult, but it was for these two teams until the fourth quarter — when 27 of the 43 points were scored.
The third quarter was notable for a goal-line stand by the Falcons, which was more about the Giants’ failure to gain one yard on back-to-back plays. Entering the fourth quarter, the Falcons led 10-6. Once they booted a long field goal to take a 13-6 lead, the game already felt over. It was over when Tevin Coleman broke free for a 30-yard touchdown that turned a seven-point game into a 14-point game with just under eight to play. Even though the Giants cut the lead to eight points (more on this later), their defense couldn’t get a stop late in the fourth quarter against Matt Ryan, who finished the game on fire.
Down 11, the Giants mounted a garbage time drive that turned sour at the goal line, which is the only reason why we’re talking about it. With just around a minute remaining and no timeouts to use, the Giants had the ball at the Falcons’ 8-yard line. They could’ve immediately kicked a field goal and then attempted an onside kick, or they could’ve tried to score a quick touchdown. They did neither. They eventually scored a touchdown, but not before Eli Manning completed a pass short of the goal line and then failed to score on consecutive quarterback sneaks. The clock kept ticking. By the time the Giants scored on a Manning to Beckham touchdown, only five seconds remained. So even if they had recovered the ensuing onside kick (they didn’t), they wouldn’t have had time for anything except a Hail Mary.
In the context of the game, it didn’t really matter. Barring an unlikely onside kick recovery, the Giants were going to lose no matter what. But in the broader context of the season, it’s representative of just how much these Giants have failed both on and off the field. The failures began when they passed on drafting a quarterback and stuck with Manning. And their failures have continued as they’ve slogged their way to a 1-6 start.
Meanwhile, at 3-4, the Falcons aren’t quite out of the race yet, but they shouldn’t be considered anything more than technically alive at this point. They’re closer to the Giants than to, say, the Saints, who are leading their division at 5-1. But they’re alive.
Matt Ryan good once again
The only saving grace in the opening 30 minutes were back-to-back plays by the Falcons’ passing attack that gave them a 7-0 lead with just under five minutes to play in the first half. First, Ryan threw up a jump ball to Austin Hooper, who came down with a tremendous catch near the sideline for a 36-yard gain. On the next play, Ryan threw a home-run to Marvin Hall for a 47-yard touchdown. At that point, Ryan was 6 of 6 for 121 yards on play-action.
Play-action was a theme of the night for the Falcons offense, who often found success when they used play fakes. But Ryan wasn’t really asked to do much else. He avoided giving the ball away. And he made a few key throws. The best way to describe his outing is to say he was remarkably consistent.
It certainly didn’t feel like he played spectacularly well, but he finished with a fantastic stat line. In all, he completed 31 of 39 passes for 379 yards, one touchdown, no picks, and a 115.7 passer rating. Most impressively, he completed his final 18 passes of the game, including a couple key completions on the drive that iced the game. Once again, Ryan played well.
Despite the Falcons’ descent this season, Ryan has remained remarkably proficient. After a lackluster performance in a season-opening loss, Ryan proceeded to complete 74.6 percent of his passes, average 9.4 yards per attempt, throw 14 touchdowns and only one interception, and post a 127.0 passer rating in the five games leading up to Monday night. Don’t blame him for the Falcons’ record. He’s been their best player by a wide margin.
Manning’s woes continue
As Manning deals with the fallout of the reports that indicate he has lost the support of the locker-room, he continues to look like a quarterback who’s on his final days in the NFL. Against one of the league’s worst defenses, Manning looked like Captain Checkdown for most the evening. He finished with an attractive stat line, but that stat line only camouflages what was another ugly outing for three-fourths of the game.
He completed 27 of 38 passes for 399 yards, one touchdown, no picks, and a 113.8 passer rating. But his performance will be remembered more for the mistakes before the fourth quarter.
Manning, under duress for much of the night, hit most of his underneath passes, but missed a couple downfield passes to Beckham, including what would’ve been a nine-yard touchdown late in the first half. Beckham gained separation. He was wide open. The protection was adequate. Manning just missed him.
On third-and-goal, Manning took a sack, simply not seeing an uncovered receiver in the end zone.
The combination of the Giants’ offensive line and Manning is a match made in the pits of football hell.
Giants coach Pat Shurmur isn’t helping matters both in terms of his scheme and play-calling. He’s constantly asking his offensive line to block without help.
On a third down at the goal-line at the beginning of the third quarter, he called for an end-around that went horizontal instead of vertical when all they needed was one single yard. Shurmur was smart to keep his offense on the field for fourth down and he drew up a play-action rollout pass that worked as designed when Beckham broke free, but Manning bypassed Beckham and threw back across the middle incomplete.
Clearly, the Giants’ struggles aren’t entirely on Manning. He hasn’t been good. But he’s been placed in a horrific environment as his offensive line continually allows pressure that forces Manning to check the ball down. Almost everyone involved has been bad. This a failure at every level.
But Manning’s not blameless in all of this. He misses open targets downfield when they are open. He takes sacks that are avoidable. It looks like the game has passed him by. The Giants, however, don’t really have anyone behind Manning to replace him right now. Benching him — a franchise icon who produced two Super Bowls — really won’t solve much of anything. But it certainly appears like the Giants will use what will be a very high draft pick on his replacement — a year after they passed on Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, and Josh Allen for a running back.
Ignore Manning’s final stat line. This game won’t help him reestablish himself as the Giants’ franchise quarterback.
Barkley’s historic start comes to an end
Saquon Barkley, the running back the Giants drafted instead of a quarterback, is one of the few blameless Giants. He’s been incredible, overcoming a bad offensive line and a bad supporting cast.
But against the Falcons, Barkley’s historic start to the season ended. He had reached 100 yards in every game this season, but that streak expired on Monday night.
Despite a late push to hit the 100-yard mark, Barkley finished with 94 yards on 23 touches.
Don’t blame him. He’s being ask to make something out of nothing on nearly every touch. And he still managed to score a touchdown.
Not Odell Beckham’s fault
Despite catching passes from a 37-year-old washed up quarterback who doesn’t have enough time to look downfield or an arm capable of beating a defense, Beckham’s still managing to be productive.
He caught eight passes for 143 yards and one garbage time touchdown. Up until that point, he did most of his damage between the 20s, which isn’t Beckham’s fault. Manning missed him twice in the end zone — once with a bad throw, once with a bad decision.
It got so bad that DeAndre Hopkins felt the need to tweet this:
At the very least, Beckham is still racking up yards. As a result, he became the fastest player to reach 5,000 receiving yards, needing only 54 career games to do so. The player he surpassed in the record book? Julio Jones.
One problem that’s plagued Beckham this season is dehydration. It’s a problem that seems to be entirely his own fault considering he doesn’t like to drink water. So when he briefly left the game in the second half, most of us assumed he was going to get yet another IV to fight off cramping.
We were wrong. In an unexpected twist, maybe he’s drinking too much water now.
I have nothing else to add except:
Julio Jones still can’t buy a TD
Julio Jones still can’t buy a touchdown, but he remains unquestionably great. He led the Falcons with nine catches for 104 yards. That being said, his touchdown-less streak is insane. The Falcons are throwing touchdowns to Marvin Hall, but they can’t give one to Jones.
He hasn’t caught a touchdown all season long.
Shumur not stupid going for two
Shurmur drew the ire of most of Twitter when he decided to go for two after the Giants scored a fourth quarter touchdown to cut the Falcons’ lead to eight points. The Giants failed to score on the two-point conversion, but that didn’t make Shurmur’s decision a stupid one — even if it was rare to see a coach make that call.
It wasn’t dumb when Eagles coach Doug Pederson did the exact same thing two weeks ago. And it wasn’t dumb on Monday night. As ESPN’s Seth Walder explained earlier this month, the math actually supports going for two in that situation. Walder explained again on Monday night why Shurmur was correct in his decision making:
The math backs up Pat Shurmur’s decision to go for two down eight points with less than five minutes to go. Going for it then gives Shurmur an informational advantage. If the Giants convert, then on their next touchdown they know they only need to kick at PAT to take the lead (assuming no other scores). If they fail, which they did, they have an opportunity to go for it again to tie. The long and short of it: converting once is much more likely than failing twice.
Don’t be surprised if this happens more frequently as NFL teams get smarter and lean on things like numbers, math, and logic to make decisions in high-leverage situations.
The Falcons enjoy their bye in Week 8 before road games against the Redskins and Browns. Traveling away from Atlanta is a theme of the second half of their season. Six of their final nine games will come on the road. Yikes. It’ll be difficult for them to insert themselves into the playoff mix.
The Giants, meanwhile, host the Redskins before their Week 9 bye. After the bye, they’ll travel across the country to take on a vulnerable 49ers team. That game should matter a ton, but only in terms of the draft order.
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