Focused, heady play allowed the Atlanta Falcons to survive and get a win in Week 1. A lack of it cost the New York Giants what appeared to be a certain victory.
The Falcons look to knock off a second straight NFC East opponent Sunday when they visit a Giants team that seems sure to still be reeling from a bizarre and stunning loss last week.
Atlanta did just enough to beat Philadelphia on Monday, winning 26-24 despite getting outscored 21-6 in the second half. The Falcons sealed the win on Ricardo Allen's late interception of Sam Bradford with the Eagles driving for the potential winning score.
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Philadelphia's up-tempo offense seemed unstoppable after the break and put the Eagles up 24-23 with 8:37 left. However, Matt Bryant kicked his fourth field goal just over two minutes later, a 47-yarder.
Just as important was the Falcons' pass rush pressuring Bradford on the decisive INT, forcing him to hurry his throw to the middle of the field - the result of tight coverage on Philadelphia's outside receivers. That gave Dan Quinn a win in his debut as Atlanta's coach.
''The big thing that you can take from this win is that we finished,'' Bryant said. ''Coach Quinn has really emphasized over the preseason about finishing.''
The Giants will need a refresher on that before Sunday. They played impressively for most of their opener at Dallas, with the defensive backfield hounding Dez Bryant and other receivers while forcing two interceptions of Tony Romo and three total turnovers.
New York wasn't nearly as impressive in the final two minutes, and as a result, has spent the week answering questions about a string of mental errors that led to a 27-26 loss.
Most of them have been asked of Eli Manning, who admitted to not only losing track of Dallas' timeouts late in the game, but telling running back Rashad Jennings not to score on two consecutive plays when the Giants had a first down at the Cowboys 4-yard line with 1:54 to play, and a 23-20 lead.
''I thought that they may let us score to get the ball back, so that's why I informed Rashad if they let you score, just go down at the one-inch line. Don't score,'' the 12-year veteran said. ''He still ran hard, we got two yards on first down and second down, third down that was my - it's still my mistake. That did not come from the sideline.''
Manning also threw the ball away on third down in that sequence, stopping the clock and giving Romo 1:34 to drive the Cowboys to the winning touchdown, an 11-yard pass to Jason Witten with seven seconds remaining.
''It was bad clock management,'' Manning said. ''It was definitely an option to take a sack and run 40 seconds off the clock and give them less time. That's 100 percent on me.''
Coach Tom Coughlin accepted some of the blame, saying the call to throw on third down with Dallas being out of timeouts "was not a good decision.''
Regrouping after the disaster will probably require a similarly impressive performance by the Giants' secondary this week. Among the big positives to come out of the loss was the play of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (six tackles, 57-yard fumble return for a TD) and Prince Amukamara, whose tight coverage largely neutralized Bryant and Terrance Williams.
The challenge appears even bigger Sunday, however, with Julio Jones (nine receptions, 141 yards, two TDs against the Eagles) and Roddy White (four catches, 84 yards) set to test New York's defensive backs.
''Julio is an awesome player,'' said Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who overcame a pair of costly interceptions. ''He's as good as it gets, and we're lucky to have him.''
The Giants also didn't generate any pass rush last week, failing to sack Romo or pressure him much at all - especially on the decisive drive. That could prove fatal again if they can't get to Ryan and Jones and White are given time to get open.
In addition, New York managed one offensive touchdown and just 289 yards of offense against Dallas.
"The challenge is simply to recognize the encouraging things that happened in the game," Coughlin, whose team didn't commit a turnover, told the team's official website. "I thought we played hard, we were aggressive. We've got to continue, obviously, to do that. But we've also got to get our Xs and Os better. Our offensive execution and the fact that the offensive team, their responsibility is not only to protect the ball but score touchdowns. So that's basically where we are."
The Giants have won five of the last six meetings, including playoffs. New York beat Atlanta 30-20 at MetLife Stadium on Oct. 5, with Manning passing for 200 yards and two touchdowns to support a 124-yard rushing day.