The Atlanta Falcons wanted to make a statement.
Boy, did they deliver one Sunday to the defending Super Bowl champions.
Coming off an ugly loss and criticized for failing to impress even when they won, the Falcons turned in their most well-rounded performance of the season with the playoffs approaching. Matt Ryan threw three TD passes and the defense handed New York its first regular-season shutout since 1996, routing the Giants, 34-0.
"We love the haters, man," said Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel, who had the first of two interceptions against Eli Manning. "The haters keep us going. So keep your hate coming. We love it. It makes us play with a chip on our shoulder."
It sure showed.
Julio Jones caught a couple of scoring throws from Ryan, who broke his own franchise records for completions and passing yards in a season. Matty Ice finished 23-for-28 for 270 yards.
The Falcons (12-2), who have already clinched the NFC South, moved a step closer to homefield advantage throughout the conference playoffs. One more win would ensure that any postseason contests before the Super Bowl are held at the Georgia Dome.
Manning had his lowest-rated passer rating (40.7) since 2007 for New York (8-6), which dropped into a first-place tie with Washington and Dallas in the NFC East.
The Giants also went 0-for-3 on fourth down and missed a 30-yard field goal.
"Atlanta was very, very good. We were very, very bad," New York coach Tom Coughlin said. "There's no excuse for what happened here."
Despite their lofty record, Atlanta has received plenty of criticism for struggling to beat inferior opponents. A 30-20 loss to last-place Carolina the previous week only seemed to reinforce the notion that the Falcons are headed for another short stay in the playoffs. They have yet to win a postseason game since Ryan took over as the QB in 2008, going 0-3.
There was a moment of silence before the game honoring the Connecticut shooting victims, and New York took the extra step of wearing "SHES" decals on its blue helmets in honor of Sandy Hook Elementary School. Wide receiver Victor Cruz dedicated the game to 6-year-old victim Jack Pinto, who was reported to be a big Giants fan.
"It was very emotional, obviously, during the game," said Cruz, who caught only three passes for 15 yards. "With a family facing that much tragedy, you want to be someone that inspires them, someone that can put a smile on their face at a time where it's tough to do that."