It's official. The Giants defense is back.
We had an inkling over the last two weeks, but the performance in Sunday afternoon's playoff victory over the Falcons turned a trend into a confirmed fact. The Giants allowed the Falcons to do nothing offensively all afternoon and rode that performance to a convincing 24-2 victory.
The defense never came up bigger than on two fourth down plays in their own territory. There was one in each half, and Falcons coach Mike Smith decided to pass on the chance to kick field goals each time in favor of trying for seven points.
People will disagree with his choice to play so aggressively, but hitting either play would have made for a very different game. The problem came with his complete lack of imagination when it came to the play calls.
Smith dialed up quarterback sneaks by Matt Ryan both times and the quarterback never had a chance against a feisty defensive line. The first one wound up not helping the Giants as Eli Manning made a bad decision under pressure that led to intentional grounding and a safety.
The second one wound up ending the game. The score was 10-2 with 4:21 to play in the third quarter when the Giants stoned Ryan and the game was essentially over three plays later when Hakeem Nicks turned a short completion into a 72-yard touchdown.
Those two plays were really the story of the game. All afternoon, the Giants defense and Manning made plays when they had to make plays while the Falcons simply failed to make anything of the chances that came their way.
U.S. & World
If you're looking for a scapegoat on the Atlanta side, Smith (and offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey) is a pretty good place to start. They came up with a game plan that prioritized conservatism over risk, something that came back to bite them when they actually showed some aggression on those fourth down plays.
And since we've got no reason to pile on, Smith chose not go for it on fourth-and-one on the series after Nicks' touchdown when his entire season was hanging in the balance. Tom Coughlin is going to win most battles between coaches, but this one wasn't really a fair fight.
Ryan deserves some blame as well. He was skittish all afternoon, even when there was no pass rush in his face, and that made it impossible for Atlanta to create any opportunities.
After Nicks' touchdown, the opportunities completely dried up. The Giants can thank their other big reemergence of the day for that.
They picked up 170 yards on the ground with both Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs churning up huge gains throughout the second half. As good as the defense was, the arrival of the running game is the biggest reason to feel like the Giants can leave Lambeau Field as the winners next weekend.
It was a good fight when the two teams met in the regular season, but the Giants ultimately lost the game because they couldn't keep Aaron Rodgers off the field. The running game they displayed on Sunday can do that and, for the first time all year, you can actually express some confidence about it being there when the Giants need it.
And that won't be where the confidence ends. The Giants dominated a game on Sunday for the first time all season, something that should have the team flying to Green Bay without the need of a plane.
Timing is everything and the Giants have picked the right time to play their best football.
Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.