Falcons 17, Giants 10

Doug Johnson made a statement for every backup quarterback who has ever stood patiently on the sidelines, wearing a cap and carrying a clipboard.

Starting in place of injured Michael Vick, Johnson directed the Atlanta Falcons to a 17-10 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday in the third start of an NFL career that has been spent watching and waiting.

Johnson completed 19 of 25 passes for 257 yards, threw for one touchdown and ran for another. It would seem to be a shot of confidence for most second-stringers, but not this one.

``I had confidence before this game,'' Johnson said. ``What I got from this game was experience. I think any player at any position gets better with experience.''

It was no comparison to his other NFL starts, which came two years ago.

``Last time, I was a rookie,'' he said. ``I had no idea about the offense as a rookie. You look at (John) Elway, (Troy) Aikman. They were terrible in their first year.

``To go into a game with all the snaps in practice, you develop timing as well as what we're trying to do, instead of taking two of eight snaps and learning off a board.

``You hope you're around when somebody gives you a chance. You're more valuable with experience. Quarterback is a unique position. What you hope for is that you're still around when you mature.''

Johnson took the Falcons on a 17-play, 9-minute, 34-second drive that ended on the first play of the second quarter when he pump-faked Jason Sehorn into the air and sidestepped him for a 15-yard TD run.

``It was spur of the moment,'' he said. ``I knew if I went out of bounds, we wouldn't get the first down. They did a good job covering the play. It opened up. It becomes a sandlot play.''

During the drive, three Giants went down with injuries - defensive tackle Keith Hamilton with a torn Achilles' tendon, defensive end Michael Strahan with back spasms and safety Omar Stoutmire with a sprained knee, although Stoutmire returned. Strahan made it back, too, but only on passing downs. Hamilton is done for the season.

Johnson never noticed.

``I didn't know they were out until after the game,'' he said. ``I've got too many other things to worry about.''

The Giants responded with a 38-yard field goal by Matt Bryant but Jay Feely's 31-yarder restored the seven-point lead at halftime.

New York tied it on the opening drive of the third quarter when Kerry Collins connected with Ike Hilliard for an 18-yard TD.

``I thought we had things turned around at the half,'' Giants coach Jim Fassel said. ``I thought we were going to be able to control the game.''

After Juran Bolden's fourth-quarter interception halted a Giants drive at the 6, Johnson got the Falcons out of trouble with a 63-yard pass play to Shawn Jefferson.

Then, he called an audible at the line of scrimmage that resulted in a 14-yard game-winning TD pass to Brian Finneran with 8:06 to play.

Falcons coach Dan Reeves couldn't have been more pleased.

``Doug Johnson managed the game extremely well,'' the coach said. ``My hat's off to him. He took the chance he had and did a great job.''