Inspired Falcons defense shuts down Saquon Barkley, Giants

ATLANTA -- Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan could have reflected on completing 18 consecutive passes to end the game. He could have gloated about being the first quarterback of the Super Bowl era with 350 passing yards and no interceptions in four straight home games.

Instead, the 2016 MVP took the podium following Monday night's 23-20 win against the New York Giants (1-6) and deflected the praise to a deserving party: The Falcons defense.

"I thought they kept us in it," Ryan said. "They kind of kept us in the driver's seat the entire night with their play, their aggressiveness. I thought they tackled really well. They were physical. Got after the passer. I'm proud of them. They've been working really hard, and they played really well tonight."

The Falcons' strong defensive effort included a goal-line stand to start the second half. For the game, the Falcons finished with four sacks, nine quarterback hits, and a season-high seven tackles for losses. Thanks in large part to the inspired return of defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, Atlanta's defense came through.

It wasn't a flawless outing, as the Falcons gave up some chunk pass plays and dropped another interception, but there were defensive moments to build on -- perhaps for the rest of the season -- in an important win.

The Falcons improved to 3-4 and put together back-to-back wins for the first time this season. More importantly, they saw a defense that has been a sieve in recent weeks buckle down, as if the message from coach Dan Quinn and defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel finally got through to the players.

Nothing was more indicative of the defensive improvement than holding Giants rookie sensation Saquon Barkley in check. Barkley, who entered the game averaging 5.2 yards per carry and 9.3 yards per reception, couldn't put Falcons defenders on the highlight reel because they swarmed him and were physical while doing so. Manuel rotated different bodies to make sure he had guys fresh to make tackles -- or at least to make sure he had sure-tacklers on the field. The strategy worked.

One of the signature plays against Barkley was a third-down stop in the fourth quarter, on which Brian Poole and Brooks Reed dropped the rookie for a 8-yard loss.

The Falcons already know what they have in their offense, even when Ryan, Julio Jones & Co. aren't scoring 40-plus points. They found out what they have in their replacement kicker, Giorgio Tavecchio, who hit a 56-yarder in place of the injured Matt Bryant (hamstring).

What the team needs now to possibly get back into the playoff conversation is for the defense to make continuous strides, no matter the personnel on the field.

Although Barkley scored a 2-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter, the Falcons surrendered just 43 rushing yards to him on 14 carries. That's even more important when you consider that Redskins veteran Adrian Peterson, Browns rookie Nick Chubb and Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott are the next running backs on the Falcons' schedule. Not to mention, Atlanta has to face Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram on Thanksgiving in New Orleans.

As mentioned earlier, Jarrett was the catalyst. He missed the previous two games with the ankle injury but had two sacks in the first half. Jarrett seemed to spark the entire defensive line as it got pressure on Eli Manning and affected his rhythm -- not that he ever really established one.

"It's hard when you're leader of a unit and you're out and you can go out there with your boys. Me coming back, I definitely learned to show how much I cared about this team, this defense," Jarrett said.

As for Ryan, it was kind of a ho-hum day, as he completed 31 of 39 passes for 379 yards and a touchdown to Marvin Hall while shaking off three early sacks. Jones had 104 receiving yards on nine catches, and Tevin Coleman, who was starting again with Devonta Freeman on injured reserve, had a 30-yard touchdown run.

"We're a team that knows everything that we want is still ahead of us," Jarrett said. "And we're going to approach it in that way: Not let one win stay on our mind too long, not letting a loss stay on our mind. We're going to take this win and enjoy it, but we've got to put it to bed [and] go back to work because we've got a long way to go. And we're a group of tough guys, man. We'll never give up."