EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Backed into a corner, the Falcons showed some fight and snatched a victory away from the New York Giants with two late scoring drives and big drop by the defense.
Falcons went to prized-rookie tight Kyle Pitts late and he helped set up a touchdown and a 40-yard field goal by kicker Younghoe Koo to pull out a 17-14 win over the Giants Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
After not being targeted for three quarters, Pitts came up with two fourth-quarter catches and a pass interference call that were pivotal to the win.
“It just something that we practice all week,” Pitts said. “Competitive excellence. Whenever your number is called, being able to make a play. I just waited until the opportunity came my way and made something of it.”
Following a big stop by the defense, Koo’s kick went through the uprights at the buzzer.
“These guys scratched, clawed and fought,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “I can’t say enough about these guys and their mentality.”
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who tossed his 350th and 351st career touchdowns passes, presented Smith with a “game ball” for his first NFL victory as a head coach.
“It was a grind most of the day,” Ryan said. “It was a great learning lesson for a lot of our young players. Some times in this league, that’s the way it is and you have to find a way to get the job done.”
With the Giants trying to take away wide receiver Calvin Ridley and Pitts for most of the game, Ryan completed 27 of 36 passes for 243 yards. He finished with a passer rating of 111.2.
“We battled and when it was time we stepped up and made the plays we had to make,” Ryan said “Those last two drives were clutch and really good for us (with) a lot different people making plays in those situations, which is going to be bode well for us moving forward.”
With the gritty performance, the Falcons improved to 1-2 on the season. The Giants, who honored former quarterback and potential Hall of Famer Eli Manning at halftime, dropped to 0-3.
“It’s not going to be perfect,” Smith said. “We know that we’ve got a ways to go, but you could see that when we needed the last two drives, guys stepped up. Stepped up. Went down the field and scored touchdown. Keep swinging. Found different ways in the clutch.”
Here are the five things we learned from the game:
Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC
1. Where’s Kyle Pitts? Falcons fans on social media where in full meltdown mode as Pitts didn’t have any targets until the fourth quarter.
Pitts, who was taken with the fourth overall pick in the draft, caught one pass for 10 yards on third-and-8 to keep the drive moving. He was targeted with 4:55 left on a play in the end zone when Giants cornerback Logan Ryan was flagged for pass interference. The Falcons got the ball at 1-yard line.
After running back Mike Davis was stuffed for no gain, Ryan tossed a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Lee Smith. Koo’s extra point tied the game 14-14 with 4:13 left to play.
The defense came up with a big stop to force a punt. On second-and-10, outside linebacker Dante Fowler came up with a sack of quarterback Daniel Jones for a 9-yard loss. The Giants couldn’t convert third-and-19 from their 40 and were forced to punt.
Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC
“We definitely had some fight (left) to get the ball back at the end,” defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “We have to get them off the field a little faster, but when it counted we stepped up and got the offense the ball back.”
2. Scoring drives: The Giants’ offense put together three scoring drives of 11 plays or more, while the Falcons couldn’t sustain much offense until last two drives.
The Giants opened with a 11-play, 73-yard drive to start the game. Kicker Graham Gano cleared the uprights on a 25-yard field goal try to put the Giants up 3-0.
After an exchange of punts, the Giants pieced a 15-play, 73-yard drive that took 7 minutes, 38 seconds off the clock. Gano made a 31-yard field goal to put the Giants up 6-0.
The Falcons scored a touchdown before the half and after a scoreless third quarter, the Giants capped a 10-play, 71-yard drive with a touchdown by running back Saquon Barkley. That drive took 5:10 off the clock.
The Falcons didn’t have a drive of 10 plays or more until after they fell behind 14-7. The Falcons mastered a 15-play, 72-yard drive that took 8:40 off the clock and ended with Smith’s touchdown catch.
3. Punting exhibition: Falcons punter Cameron Nizialek, who received a reprieve after shanking two punts last week against the Bucs, had a spectacular day.
His best punt was a short 37-yard flopper to the coffin corner that was downed by Cordarrelle Patterson at the Giants’ 3-yard line.
After the defense held, the Falcons got the ball back at New York’s 44.
The Falcons benefitted from the great field position and scored on a 4-yard touchdown pass to Zaccheaus.
4. TD pass club: Ryan’s touchdown pass to Zaccheaus was the 350th career touchdown pass of his career.
The extra point put the Falcons ahead 7-6, a lead they took into the locker room at halftime.
Ryan became the 10th quarterback to hit the 350th touchdown mark.
Tom Brady (590), Drew Brees (571), Peyton Manning (539), Brett Favre (508), Philip Rivers (421), Dan Marino (420), Aaron Rodgers (416), Ben Rothlisberger (398), and Eli Manning (366) also have thrown for 350 touchdown passes or more.
Zaccheaus, who started for Russell Gage (out with an ankle injury), finished with three catches for 32 yards. He had a huge 14-yard grab over the middle in the key drive right before the half. He took a hard-hit from Giants cornerback Xavier McKinney, but held onto the ball. McKinney was called for unnecessary roughness.
“It was really just focusing in on the ball,” Zaccheaus said. “Being fearless over the middle. Catching the ball over the middle you are probably going to take a hit most of the time. Just really focusing on the ball.”
Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC
On third-and-goal from the 4, Zaccheaus popped open for the score.
“On the touchdown, it was just making myself available to (Ryan),” Zaccheaus said. “He found me. That was a big drive for us at the end of the half.”
5. Short yardage woes: The Falcons continued to struggle in short-yardage situations.
On and third-and-1 on their first possession, Feleipe Franks — who was active for the first time this season — came in at quarterback and handed off to Patterson, who was stopped for no gain.
Ryan was flanked out to the left of the formation as a wide receiver.
Davis was dropped on first-and-goal from the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter.
“I can’t say enough how proud I am of these guys to grind through to get a win like that we desperately needed on the road,” Smith said.
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