Steven Jackson and the Atlanta Falcons entered Sunday’s game on the road against the New York Giants anxious to wipe away the taste of a bitter loss in Minnesota last week, and get back on track.
Paced by an early score from SJ39, the Falcons were able to do that early on. SJax once again paved the way for the quartet of Atlanta running backs, scoring the team’s first touchdown while garnering 74 all-purpose yards, including 37 yards on the ground.
His crucial 10-yard touchdown in the first quarter knotted the score at 7-7 and set off a run of fruitful possessions that staked the Falcons to a 20-10 lead.
But the game was a true tail of halves, and Atlanta’s 10-point third quarter lead evaporated as New York posed four unasnwered scores to send the Falcons to a 30-20 defeat, their third loss of the season, pushing them back under .500.
“Today’s game we didn’t do a very good job sustaining the momentum that we had through the first half of the ball game and then through the end of the third quarter,” said head coach Mike Smith after the game. “We are extremely disappointed in the way that the game finished.”
The game didn’t get off to a notoriously strong start either. After forcing the Giants to punt in the opening minutes of the contest, the Falcons offense went three-and-out and New York followed with a 11-play, 83-yard scoring drive to take a 7-0 lead.
But the points put on the board by New York seemed to rouse the Falcons offense.
The ensuing Atlanta drive began with SJax pulling down a pass in the middle of the field for five yards. The short strike to Steven opened up the field for quarterback Matt Ryan on the next play and he connected with receiver Julio Jones for a gain of 22 yards that nearly brought the Falcons to midfield.
Atlanta put the onus on SJ39 to carry them across the halfway point and he did that with consecutive rushes totaling 13 yards.
Ryan then found Jones twice more on the drive to put the team in the red zone.
And on first-and-goal from the, Steven bounced a run out to the left, followed a great block from the pulling tight end Levine Toilolo and powered his way to the pylon for the game-tying score.
The first-quarter rushing touchdown was No. 64 for Steven’s career. He also now stands just 84 rushing yards shy of becoming the 19th running back in NFL history to reach 11,000.
SJ’s score changed the momentum of the game and it swung even more in favor of the Falcons on the ensuing kickoff when Giants return man Preston Parker fumbled at the 19-yard line and Atlanta’s Eric Weems recovered the loose ball.
However, the Falcons were unable to get maximum points on the drive. Two pass plays got Atlanta inside the 10 quickly, and a six-yard run by Steven set Atlanta up on 2nd-and-goal from the 2.
But the New York defense stiffened from that point and stuffed SJ39 for a two-yard loss on the next play, and on third and goal the Giants snuffed out a Falcons screen to Antone Smith for a gain of just one yard, forcing a field goal try. Matt Bryant nailed the 20-yarder to give Atlanta a 10-7 lead.
New York managed to tie the game with a field goal of their own with less than four minutes left in the half, but Atlanta refused to go into the break even.
Steven got the Falcons going on the ensuing drive with a four-yard run and followed that by nabbing a short pass by Ryan and taking it for 11 yards and a first down across midefield to the Giants 46-yard-line at the two-minute warning.
From there, Atlanta went into the two-minute drill and drove all the way to the doorstep of the end zone, where they were again stuffed and settled for a chip-shot field goal from Bryant to end the first half with a 13-10 lead.
“At the end of the day, when you get that opportunity and you’re inside the five, you’ve got to go in there and just punch them in,” receiver Roddy White said. “We felt like we were right there, kicking field goals on the two-yard line and three-yard line, and that is not good in this league.”
The second half began with the Falcons in possession of the ball and Atlanta kept SJ39 involved via both the run and the pass on the opening drive of the third quarter.
His first carry of the half went for three yards and on the very next play, Ryan found Steven for his third catch of the afternoon, from which SJ managed to gain 10 yards and pick up another Atlanta first down. It was the start of a five-minute drive for the Falcons, but the jaunt ended short of field goal range, forcing a Matt Bosher punt.
After a short drive for the Giants resulted in another punt, Atlanta started their second drive of the quarter at the 20. SJax got it started by softening up the Giants defense with a pair of hard runs.
Then on third-and-4, Ryan hooked up with Antone Smith for a short pass that the Falcons speedster took 74 yards to the house for a touchdown that put Atlanta up 20-10.
At that point, it seemed like the Falcons were in control of the outcome.
“Our guys battled,” Ryan said afterward. “I thought in the first half we did a really nice job mixing the run and the pass.”
But after the Smith touchdown, it was all New York.
The Giants immeadiately mounted a touchdown drive to answers Smith’s score and pull within three, 20-17 with little time left in the third quarter.
Atlanta followed with a three-and-out and handed the ball back to Eli Manning and the Giants offense at the outset of the fourth quarter. New York made the most of good field position and Manning engineered a 11-play, 64-yard drive capped by a 15-yard touchdown pass to rooking Odell Beckham Jr. that put the Giants in front 24-20.
With a chance to answer, the Falcons again went three-and-out and the Giants tacked on a field goal to go up 27-20. Atlanta’s third consecutive three-and-out allowed New York to get the ball back and chew up clock.
Over the trio of three-and-out drives, the Falcons gained a total of seven yards.
“We couldn’t get anything going offensively there in the second half nor could we get the stops that we needed. I felt like we played okay in spurts in the first half of the ball game,” Smith said. “We’ve got to be much better, we’ve got to coach better, we’ve got to play better.”
After the Giants ended their final possession of the game with a field goal to put Atlanta down two scores, 30-20, Ryan tried to engineer a desperation drive in the final two minutes to draw the Falcons closer. But a trio of penalties set Atlanta back and they simply ran out of time.
“It’s very disappointing,” stated Ryan. “We just have to finish. You just have to go out there and you just have to execute…It’s very troubling, but we’re going to get it together; we’re going to bounce back.”
The Falcons (2-3) will attempt to bounce back in the friendly confines of the Georgia Dome when they host the Chicago Bears (2-3) next week.
For his career, SJax has averaged 74 yards rushing, 24 yards receiving and has two total touchdowns in three contests against the Bears.
He’ll meet Chicago for the fourth time at 4:25 p.m. EDT Sunday on Fox.