EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — After missing the playoffs the past two seasons, the Atlanta Falcons got off to a great start under new coach Dan Quinn.
Following a win over the Philadelphia Eagles, the hard part comes Sunday against the New York Giants. It’s winning again, and showing you’re not satisfied with one.
A repeat is something the Giants can’t afford in their quest to get back to the playoffs after a three-year absence. They don’t want Atlanta going 2-0, and they certainly don’t want to play Santa Claus for a second straight week.
Eli Manning, Tom Coughlin and the offense gave away what would have been an uplifting road victory against the Cowboys by mismanaging the clock in the final 1:54 and then allowing Tony Romo to lead the Dallas to a 27-26 stunner with 7 seconds left to play.
It was a disheartening loss compounded by Manning’s blunder in telling halfback Rashad Jennings not to score because he lost track of Dallas’ time outs. He thought they had one when it was two.
“Any loss hurts but thinking of that one, we had it. We were in position to win and letting it slip away is something you think about,” Giants tight end Larry Donnell said. “It was a long plane ride just thinking: ‘What happened?’ We are going to learn from it, eliminate it and move on and try to get a win this week. But it was right there on the table for us.”
Coughlin and Manning have both accepted the blame for the brutal loss, which also featured Manning throwing away a third-down pass with 1:37 to play, stopping the clock and giving the Cowboys more time to win.
This situation could have been different. While the Giants collapsed, the Falcons were lucky in the 26-24 win.
Philadelphia’s Cody Parkey was wide right on a go-head 44-yard field goal attempt in the closing minutes.
In preparing the Falcons this week, Quinn has told them to concentrate on just getting better.
“Of course, we have a lot that we like to talk about in terms of the players and schemes, but at the end of it, it still comes down to how we play — our style, our attitude — and that’s really the way we approach every week,” Quinn said.
Here are five things to watch in the game at MetLife Stadium:
RUNNING FALCONS: After struggling to run the ball the last two years with aging Steven Jackson, the Falcons showed a lot more promise in Week 1 with rookie Tevin Coleman and second-year player Devonta Freeman. Coleman carried 20 times for 80 yards, showing good speed and quickness. Freeman was held to 18 yards rushing but chipped in with three catches for 29 yards. In all, the Falcons finished with 105 yards on the ground. Atlanta rushed for 100 yards in only five games all of last season.
GIANTS OFFENSE: Ben McAdoo’s West Coast offense was supposed to be the backbone of the Giants this season. It was invisible in the preseason and nothing improved in Dallas. Eli Manning and company produced three field goals. The other 17 points were either scored by the defense or set up by takeaways that led to short drives. Manning and Co. need to produce more or else New York will be in trouble.
JULIO THE BEAST: Julio Jones is off to another monster season, catching nine passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns in the season-opener. He repeatedly burned new Eagles cornerback Byron Maxwell in the first half, and came up with a 44-yard catch late in the game that set up the winning field goal. Jones was named NFC offensive player of the week.
GIANTS SECONDARY: Cornerback Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were outstanding against the Cowboys and Dez Bryant. While Dallas completed 36 passes for 356 yards, the wideouts caught 14 passes for 157 yards and no touchdowns. All three of Tony Romo’s touchdowns went to his tight ends, and he found his running backs 12 times for 131 yards. Underneath was the way to attack Steve Spagnuolo’s defense.
IMPROVED RUSH: After recording only 22 sacks last season, Atlanta made an improved pass rush one of its top priorities. The early returns are promising. While the Falcons didn’t have a sack against Sam Bradford, they did hit the Eagles quarterback eight times and flushed him out of his comfort zone several other times. The pressure contributed to a pair of interceptions, and showed that Quinn’s pressure-by-committee approach might pay big dividends. The Giants barely touched Romo last week and need to improve big-time.