Twice they’ve trailed in the fourth quarter. Twice they’ve reclaimed the lead. Twice their defense has held it. Twice in six days the Falcons have won the sort of game that makes a team start to believe, and belief is no small deal.
We think back to 2004. Behind a rookie head coach, the Falcons won their first four games. Next thing you knew, they were playing the Eagles in snowy Philadelphia for the right to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Not saying that’s apt to happen with this team under a different rookie coach. But it did happen once.
“We talk about finishing all the time,” Roddy White said Sunday, speaking after a game in which he caught no passes but seemed not to mind that a teammate snagged 13. “Just to see it come to fruition is great. And our defense is engaged. They’re making plays to give us the chance.”
Said Dan Quinn, undefeated as a head coach: “This is great for our mindset.”
For the second time in six days, Quinn’s Falcons let a game slip only to snatch it back. If you’re a rookie head coach, you dream of such a start. It lends resonance to what you’ve been saying about adversity building character or pressure making diamonds or some other suitable-for-locker-room-framing bromide. It doesn’t matter that every rookie coach in the history of football has voiced those same old saws; it matters only that your men are 2-0 and therefore hanging on your every word.
Said Julio Jones, again the best player on the field: “Everybody was asking how different it is with Dan Quinn this year. We couldn’t do anything about last year. This is a whole new year.”
About here, someone asked Jones about the “amazing catch” he made in the second half. “Which one?” he said, and he wasn’t trying to crack wise.
Having Jones on your side makes finishing easier. His first reception of the fourth quarter came when the Falcons were trying to dig out from their 2-yard line. Matt Ryan threw a pass that safety Brandon Meriweather was positioned to intercept. Jones leaped so high he used Meriweather’s shoulder pads as a pedestal. This catch made the MetLife Stadium crowd gasp, and we remind you: These folks were rooting for the Giants.
Jones’ third catch of the quarter was, by comparison, only borderline gasp-worthy. He flashed past Prince Amukamara down the sideline, same as he’d blown by Philadelphia’s Byron Maxwell on Monday night, and he appeared to have scored the go-ahead touchdown. A review overturned the score but not the catch. Devonta Freeman would score the winner two snaps later.
Said Ryan of Jones: “There are some guys that, even when they’re not open, you have to feed them.”
Jones of his 13 catches: “It feels great. The team needed me to pull out this victory.”
The team needed a dollop of Kroy Biermann, too. The undersized defense end has become — now that Sam Baker’s no longer around — the chief target of Falcons fans’ bile. On this day, he made the single biggest play. The Giants were poised to claim a 27-10 lead late in the third quarter. Biermann sacked Eli Manning from behind on third-and-2 from the Falcons 8; Paul Soliai recovered the resulting fumble. The Giants didn’t score another point.
“We never know who’s going to be the one to set it off,” Quinn said. “Today it was Kroy.”
On Monday night it had been safety Ricardo Allen with the clinching interception. On this day it was Biermann who turned the game, and a pass rush on the Giants’ final series — a pass rush that had been absent earlier — that sealed it. (Manning, who has won two Super Bowls with late drives, couldn’t complete a pass over the final 1:14.)
Just like that, the blown leads of last season have been tossed in the dustbin of history. This is a new day, a new coach, a new year. “We’ve got talent,” White said. “That was never (not) the case. But now we’re seeing all the practices we went through paying off.”
Said Ryan: “Two games into it, we’re right where we want to be.”
They’re 2-0 having not yet been favored in a game. Next weekend they go to Dallas for another test against the NFC East. They’re apt to win there, too.