Giants Already in Must-Win Mode Against Falcons

Julio Jones and Roddy White

The Giants’ Week 1 disaster has them looking at a potential must-win game in Week 2. Sure, it might sound crazy to have a must-win game in Week 2, but after the way the last two season’s spiraled out of control early, the Giants have to be better on Sunday. The one problem with that is Julio Jones and Roddy White are coming to East Rutherford.

With the Falcons coming to MetLife for the Giants’ home opener, Dave Choate of The Falcoholic joined me to talk about the team’s decline over the last two seasons, the firing of Mike Smith and hiring of Pat Quinn and whether or not the criticism of Matt Ryan is fair.

Keefe: Three seasons ago, the Falcons had a 17-0 lead in the NFC Championship Game over the 49ers before eventually losing 28-24. I remember the game clearly because I had a 10-to-1 parlay on the Falcons and Ravens to win the championship games that day, but I’m sure you remember it even better.

After back-to-back first-round losses, it looked like the Falcons would finally overcome their postseason problems over the last 13 years and return to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1998. It didn’t work out and the Falcons followed it up with a 4-12 season in 2013 and a 6-10 season last year.

From being the No. 1 seed in the NFC and so close to getting to the Super Bowl only to become a third-place team in the NFC South, what happened to the Falcons over the last two years since their meltdown?

Choate: It was a lot of things at once. Mike Smith was a capable, even-keeled coach who had trouble when things started to go awry. Injuries hit, the team couldn’t get a ground game going, and too many players were unmitigated disasters on defense.

With the team feeling its lack of depth due to misses in the draft and free agency, Smith making a handful of very poor decisions that turned the fanbase against him, and the Week 17 collapse against the Panthers, ownership felt it was time to make a change. We’ll hope that bears fruit.

Keefe: After being on the hot seat for several seasons, Mike Smith was finally fired by the Falcons in December following seven seasons as head coach and just one playoff win. He was Coach of the Year in his first season (2008) with the Falcons and the team had two first-place finishes and three second-place finishes, but 2013 and 2014 were too much to overcome.

Now the team has former Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn as the team’s head coach and he won in his debut in Week 1 against the Eagles.

Were you a Smith fan and were you in agreement with his firing? Was Quinn your choice to replace him?

Smith: I always liked Smith, and I felt bad he was run out of town and had his otherwise sterling reputation tarred by the 2012 NFC Championship Game and the 2013 and 2014 seasons. That said, it was tough to argue with the idea that this team needed a change, given how poorly they played and how thoroughly everyone locally had turned on the team.

Quinn was probably my second or third choice to replace Smith (I liked Todd Bowles and Rex Ryan), but he’s proven to be a terrific hire thus far. Admittedly, it’s early.

Keefe: Matt Ryan had an impressive start to his career, but like any other quarterback, who hasn’t been part of a championship team or a team that has reached the Super Bowl, the lazy rhetoric that he can’t win the big game has started to be associated with him. Even if he has been asked to lead less-than-stellar teams in recent years, the attention always comes back to the quarterback though Ryan’s stats for each of his first seven seasons are pretty much identical.

Even as the team struggled the last two seasons, Ryan still had his usual seasons, which would have been good enough to win on many other all-around teams.

Are you a Ryan fan? Is the questioning of his big-game play fair?

Choate: The questioning of his mistakes is fair. Ryan can sometimes take risks and make sloppy throws that lead to turnovers, and that’s always going to hang over his head until he stops doing it entirely. It’s still relatively rare that his mistakes cost the Falcons the game, though, and I do think he takes more criticism than is warranted given his overall level of performance

Overall, I think Ryan is a top eight quarterback in the NFL, one of the league’s most dependable performers, and that it’s very possible he’s heading for his best year ever. I’m excited to see what he’ll do in 2015.

Keefe: Last week I had to worry about Dez Bryant before dehydration and a broken foot removed him from the game. This week, I have to worry about the two-headed monster of Julio Jones and Roddy White, but luckily I don’t have to worry about the Giants playing them in the Georgia Dome.

The Giants have a two-headed monster of their own in Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz, but Cruz didn’t play last week and won’t play this week and with Beckham missing the beginning of last season and Cruz missing most of last season, the two haven’t even played two full games together.

As a Falcons fan, you have had to deal with both Jones and White missing time in recent seasons. So I turn to you to ask how frustrating is it to know how could your offense can be when healthy, but isn’t healthy?

Choate: Extremely frustrating. The 2013 season was ruined by Julio Jones’ injury and the offensive line falling apart, and knowing that you’re without some of your top playmakers makes every loss and middling performance agonizing.

I hate to tell you this, but you’re headed for some unhappy days.

Keefe: If there’s a such thing as a must-win game in Week 2, this is it for the Giants. After blowing last week’s opener in Dallas, the Giants need to rebound before hosting the Redskins on Thursday Night Football. The good news is the Falcons are a different team when they play away from Georgia Dome and outside. The bad news is the Giants don’t usually play well at home.

For the Falcons, they had a nice Week 1 win over the Eagles as a home underdog, and have a tough start to their season with the Giants this week on the road, in Dallas next week and then home again the Texans the week after.

What do you expect to happen on Sunday?

Choate: I think a desperate Giants team at home is dangerous, and I fear the Falcons will fall to them in a fairly close game. My expectation is a 27-21 Giants win, with the Falcons suffering a little defensive pullback and some struggles playing outside of the Georgia Dome.

I do think it’ll be close, either way, and I hope the Falcons can pull one out.

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