It was as aesthetically appealing as graffiti, as much fun to watch as an infomercial about vacuums.
But that's what happens to a football game in which one defense dominates, choking off the opposition's rushing lanes, pulverizing the quarterbacks and harassing the wide receivers. That's what the Giants defense did Sunday. The unit rebounded from a poor effort last week to stuff the Atlanta Falcons and lead the Giants to a much-needed 13-6 victory.
The Giants ended their two-game losing streak, improved to 4-2 and stayed in a first-place tie with Washington in the NFC East thanks to a defense that the limited the Falcons to 13 yards rushing (the lowest total in Atlanta's history) on 14 carries, recorded four sacks and knocked out starting quarterback Chris Chandler and played with a ferociousness that enabled them to physically control the game.
Unfortunately, the Giants offense didn't do much. But the defense made this game a lot prettier for the Giants than it was for the Falcons and their fans.
"The guys really stepped up," defensive coordinator John Fox said. "We obviously didn't have one of our better performances a week ago. That was a big slogan this week, each guy looking in the mirror and being a difference-maker. We had guys step up and make big plays when we had to. A couple of interceptions, a couple of third-down stops. We made some good plays in the red area when we needed to."
Fox said he challenged his players to improve after the Tennessee Titans ran them up and down the field in a two-touchdown loss a week ago.
"We all were embarrassed," Fox said. "That's what happens when you play like we did. There actually were some good things on first and second down, but we were just really poor on third down. We just wanted to be as crisp and as fiery as we could be against a good team. There's something to be said for the leadership on our team. The guys really rallied to win at all costs and we came out of there with a W."
The offense helped just enough to win the game. Ron Dayne scored the game's only touchdown on a 2-yard run early in the first period. The Giants also got a pair of field goals from Jaret Holmes, who was substituting for the injured Brad Daluiso.
But on this day, the stars were on defense, which excelled despite the absence of middle linebacker Mike Barrow, who missed the game with a pinched nerve in his neck. Jason Sehorn was brilliant, intercepting one pass, batting away five more and contributing six tackles. Shaun Williams made two crushing hits among his team-high eight tackles. Michael Strahan, Cornelius Griffin, Keith Hamilton and Pete Monty (Barrow's replacement) each had a sack.
"I came out focused," Williams said. "It was a personal challenge for me. You know, the last two games I did not play well. I wanted to come out and play well. I saw the opportunities on both (hard shots), went for it and made good hits on both plays. But our defense as a whole came out and played well. We had the right attitude and focus."
That was most evident in the Giants treatment of quarterbacks Chris Chandler and former Giant Danny Kanell. Chandler was leveled on successive plays in the second period by Ryan Phillips and Dave Thomas and left the game for good with bruised ribs. Kanell came on, threw 19 incompletions in 36 attempts, was sacked three times and frequently punished as he released the ball.
The Giants said after the game that their strategy was to go after the quarterback.
"They had been flustered by the blitzing a little bit the week before against Philly," Fox said. "It was part of our plan early to continue that. It wasn't our intention to hurt anybody, but we wanted to pressure the quarterback and get him out of his rhythm. He can be a very, very effective rhythm passer."
"We never lost confidence in our ability to get to the quarterback," said Hamilton, who sprained his right knee when he was accidentally hit by Strahan as they surrounded Kanell. "The last two weeks we haven't played the way we're capable of playing. That happens sometimes in the NFL. I don't care who you are, you're going to get in a slump. The key thing is to work your way out of it. I think we took a major step in doing that."
The plan also included being tough with the Atlanta receivers.
"We wanted to get up in their face," Sehorn said. "We noticed the last couple games that people got up in their face and disrupted their passing game. We pressured the quarterback, first of all. When we got in the receivers' faces at the same time it made it a lot more difficult on them, because they haven't been able to run the ball this year. They have a timed passing game. If you can pressure them or re-route them, it makes it difficult."
Despite the strength of the defense, the Falcons had a chance to tie the game in the final moments. Kanell led them from the Atlanta 26 to the Giants 10, where they got a first down after a 24-yard pass interference penalty on Thomas. The Falcons had 1:55 left and two timeouts to work with. But on first down, Kanell's pass to Terance Mathis was incomplete. Strahan then made his biggest play of the season, sacking Kanell for a 7-yard loss. After a timeout, Kanell was pressured by Griffin and threw wide of Shawn Jefferson.
Atlanta then used its last timeout. Kanell rolled to the left, then fired back across the field to Mathis on the right side of the end zone. But Sehorn was there to knock away the ball and preserve the triumph.
"In the third quarter they ran the same play to the fullback, (Bob) Christian" Sehorn said. "They ran everybody across and threw back to the fullback and I got over there and made the tackle. That last play, I had deep third (of the field) and they ran that receiver on a deep post and he kind of peeled back behind me. As he was peeling back I went, uh-oh. The only way the quarterback can throw that ball is if he turns his whole body. When he shifted those shoulders I knew the ball was coming."
Atlanta, which lost its third straight game and fell to 2-4, had just three points to show for three trips to the red zone.
The Giants defense continued to be tough when backed up against its own goal line and held Atlanta to a field goal on the first possession of the second half. The Falcons had a first down on the Giants 11, thanks largely to a 35-yard pass from Kanell to Jefferson. But Atlanta gained only one yard in three plays, though the Falcons might have had a touchdown had Jamal Anderson not dropped a pass when he was open in the right flat. Morten Andersen then came on to kick a 28-yard field goal to make it 13-6 with 9:22 left in the third period.
The Giants took a 13-3 lead into the halftime locker room when Holmes kicked a 27-yard field goal as time expired in the second period. Unfortunately, the Giants wasted a chance to put more points on the board after they picked up a first down at the Atlanta 15 with 1:05 remaining. But following Collins' 7-yard pass to Greg Comella, the Giants lost a yard on each of the next two plays before Holmes kicked his second field goal of the game.
Atlanta took advantage of a short Brad Maynard punt to cut its deficit to 10-3 in the second period. The Falcons took possession at the Giants 42 after Maynard's 27-yard kick. But Atlanta couldn't take advantage of the good field position, perhaps due in part to the absence of quarterback Chris Chandler, who had the wind knocked out of him thanks to hard hits by Ryan Phillips and Dave Thomas. Kanell replaced Chandler and failed to pick up a first down before Andersen's 42-yard field goal put Atlanta on the scoreboard.
The Falcons again wasted good field position on their next possession, which began on the Giants 36 after free safety Ronnie Bradford made a diving interception of a Collins pass that caromed off Amani Toomer's hands. Atlanta gained nine yards, but on fourth-and-one from the 27, Dan Reeves played it conservative and ordered Andersen to try a field goal. But Andersen, one of the best kickers in NFL history, sliced the 45-yard attempt wide right, giving the Falcons just three total points on two drives that started in Giants territory.
The Giants had increased their lead to 10-0 on Holmes' 34-yard field goal - his first as a Giant - eight seconds before the end of the first period. The 52-yard drive to the score was set up by Sehorn's first interception of the season, which ended a Falcons scoring threat. Atlanta had a second down at the Giants 5-yard line when Sehorn intercepted Chandler's pass a yard deep in the end zone and returned it to the 32. Two 17-yard plays - the first a nice leaping catch by Toomer, the second an Ike Hilliard double-reverse - helped the Giants quickly move to the Atlanta 24. But the Giants gained just seven yards on three plays before Holmes' field goal.
Dayne' 2-yard touchdown run just 4:43 into the game gave the Giants a 7-0 lead before Atlanta ever possessed the ball. The Giants were aided by two critical miscues by the Falcons special teams.
The first occurred on the game's fifth play when Winslow Oliver mishandled Brad Maynard's punt. Reserve safety Lyle West recovered the ball for the Giants on the Atlanta 34. The drive stalled at the 15, and Holmes came on to kick a 32-yard field goal. But on the play, Falcons defensive tackle Travis Hall was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct when he used the Giants offensive line as leverage to attempt to block the kick.
Jim Fassel elected to take the three points off the board as the ball was moved to the Atlanta 7-yard line, where the Giants had a first down. Two plays later they had a touchdown as Dayne got five up the middle and the last two through the right side. He stepped across the goal line dragging linebacker Henri Crockett into the end zone.