ATLANTA - After being blanked by Atlanta, the New York Giants have to worry about being shut out of the playoffs.
Eli Manning and the defending Super Bowl champions were held scoreless in a regular-season game for the first time in 16 years. Manning threw two first-half interceptions in his worst performance in five years and the Giants were stopped on three fourth-down plays in their 34-0 loss to the Falcons on Sunday.
The Giants' first regular-season shutout loss since falling 24-0 at Philadelphia on Dec. 1, 1996 cost New York sole possession of first place in the NFC East. The Washington Redskins beat Cleveland to pull even with the Giants (8-6), and the Dallas Cowboys played later Sunday with a chance to make it a three-way tie.
"Atlanta was very, very good and we were very, very bad," said Giants coach Tom Coughlin. "We started the game off doing exactly what we said we couldn't do, which was turn the ball over."
Manning completed 13 of 25 passes for 161 yards with two interceptions for a 38.9 quarterback rating, his lowest since a 32.2 rating in a win at Buffalo in 2007. The first interception was on New York's second play, giving the Falcons possession at the Giants 16-yard line. Asante Samuel picked off a pass intended for Hakeem Nicks. Four straight runs by Michael Turner gave Atlanta a 7-0 lead.
Manning's second interception early in the second quarter set up a field goal.
The Giants added a third turnover on Kregg Lumpkin's fumble following a fourth-quarter catch.
"It's football," Manning said. "We didn't come out today and play our best. Give credit to Atlanta. They did a good job. But anytime you turn the ball over three times, it's a tough situation."
New York's leading rusher Ahmad Bradshaw was out with lingering knee and foot problems. Rookie David Wilson started and had 12 carries for 55 yards. Lumpkin had nine carries for 42 yards.
In the second quarter, Wilson was stopped on fourth-and-1 at the Falcons 32, and Manning threw incomplete on another fourth-and-1 at the Atlanta 11.
"I went for it," Coughlin said. "That was all my call, twice on fourth down, thinking that we need to do something to engender a lift for our sideline. That did not work out either."
The third fourth-down stop came on another incompletion in the third quarter.
Defensive end Justin Tuck insisted his confidence in the Giants remains firm.
"We've had crappy games like this and come back and played like Super Bowl champions," Tuck said. "No, my confidence is not shaken."
New York plays at Baltimore next week before closing at home against Philadelphia. This loss was damaging to the Giants' playoff hopes.
"They are in our hands in the fact we have two games left and we have to win those two games," Manning said. "What else happens after that, we don't know and can't control, but we can control these next two games that we play."
While Manning and the offence struggled, Atlanta's Matt Ryan threw three touchdowns passes and the Falcons had no turnovers.
Julio Jones caught two scoring passes from Ryan, who broke his franchise records for completions and yards passing in a season. Ryan completed 23 of 28 passes for 270 yards.
The NFC South champion Falcons (12-2) moved closer to locking up home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs. One more win would ensure any NFC post-season contests are held at the Georgia Dome.
The Falcons recovered from last week's 30-20 loss to last-place Carolina and extended the NFL's longest active streak since consecutive defeats to 49, going back to 2009.
New York's second series ended with a missed 30-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes.
Atlanta took it 80 yards from there, with Ryan going to Harry Douglas on a 37-yard pass for the big gainer. From the 12, Ryan went to his favourite target, Tony Gonzalez. The 16-year veteran leaped over safety Will Hill to haul in a high throw — and hopped up quickly for his customary dunk over the goalposts.
Early in the second half, the Falcons blew it open on Ryan's 40-yard touchdown pass to Jones down the left sideline. Finally, after a drive that used up more than 9 minutes in the fourth quarter, Ryan went to Jones for a 3-yard TD.
The Giants' poor performance came a week after they put up 52 points on the Saints.
There was a moment of silence before the game honouring the Connecticut shooting victims, and the Giants also wore "SHES" decals on their helmets for Sandy Hills Elementary School.
"We're all greatly saddened by what happened in Newtown, Connecticut," Coughlin said. "We all felt terribly about it. I'm sure the whole nation does, not just us. But being close to home, the players were greatly upset about it. Many of the players have young children so they can empathize with the parents who had young children killed. There was no one that escaped the effect of it, but that's not an excuse for why we played the way we played today."
NOTES: Receiver Victor Cruz said he called the family of one of the victims, Jack Pinto, after hearing the 6-year-old boy was a Giants fan. Cruz wrote "R.I.P. Jack Pinto," ''Jack Pinto, my hero" and "This one is for you" on his shoes. Cruz said he was told the family planned to bury the boy in one of Cruz's No. 80 jerseys. "I don't even know how to put it into words," Cruz said. "There are no words that can describe the type of feeling that you get when a kid idolizes you so much that unfortunately they want to put him in the casket with your jersey on. I can't even explain it."
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