Jan. 9 (Bloomberg) -- The New York Giants rushed into the second round of the playoffs behind a season-best performance from the National Football League’s worst running attack. It began with a scramble by quarterback Eli Manning.
On a third down in the second quarter, trailing 2-0 after giving up a safety, Manning dodged a tackler and ran for 14 yards to keep alive what became the Giants’ first scoring drive in yesterday’s 24-2 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
“He did look a little awkward, with the slow strides, but he got it done,” running back Brandon Jacobs said of Manning, who totaled 15 rushing yards on 35 attempts during the regular season. “I would give him a 10.”
The Giants combined to gain 172 yards on the ground, mostly from Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, for their first postseason win since the Super Bowl four years ago.
It was a turnaround for a rushing offense that averaged a league-low 89.2 yards a game during the regular season, New York’s worst in Tom Coughlin’s eight years as coach. The Giants were also the only team in the NFL to finish without a 125-yard performance.
Coughlin praised Manning’s run for giving the team momentum and Jacobs for playing a hard-hitting game. Jacobs finished with a team-high 92 yards on 14 carries.
“Jacobs set the tone physically,” Coughlin said. “I was surprised myself by the stats.”
The Falcons scored first when James Sanders caught Manning in the end zone and forced him to throw the ball away, leading to an intentional grounding penalty and a two-point safety.
On New York’s next possession, the Giants faced a third down on their own 23-yard line, needing two yards to avoid punting. Manning dodged a would-be tackler and gained 14 yards.
The Giants then added two runs of more than 20 yards -- after finishing the regular season with four rushes of that distance or further -- with both leading to points.
After Jacobs broke free for a 34-yard sprint, Manning found Hakeem Nicks for a 4-yard touchdown to complete an 85-yard, 13- play drive.
Bradshaw, who finished with 14 carries for 63 yards, had a 30-yard run in the third quarter to set up a field goal that gave the Giants a 10-2 lead.
Jacobs, who is listed as 6-foot-4, 264 pounds, said New York defenders exhorted him each time he went to the sideline to hit the Falcons harder, because Atlanta’s players were tiring as the game went on.
“Keep running it, big back, because there’s nothing they can do,” Jacobs said defensive players told him. “Trust us, we play defense, they don’t want to hit you.”
Offense Shut Down
The defense didn’t allow Atlanta to score, stopping the Falcons twice on fourth and one. The Falcons combined for 64 yards rushing, while the Giants improved to 8-1 this season when running for more than 100 yards.
“I was surprised there, especially at the end, that they were able to run the ball as well as they did,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said.
Manning threw touchdown passes to Nicks and Mario Manningham to seal the win. Nicks ended the game with six receptions for 115 yards and two touchdowns.
Jacobs said the Giants will have to continue to perform on the ground to advance in the playoffs. The Giants visit the Packers, who finished the regular season 15-1, on Jan. 15.
“At this time of the year, I think that’s what we’re going to have to do to stay in games,” Jacobs said.
--With assistance from Eben Novy-Williams and Erik Matuszewski in New York. Editors: Dex McLuskey, Dan Baynes
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