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Giants go old school in smashing wild-card win over Falcons

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The narrative of the 2011 NFL season is filled with outsized offensive statistics and larger-than-life quarterbacks taking the passing game to another level.

On Sunday, the Giants took that script -- which, to be fair, they took a part in writing with Eli Manning's 4,933-yard season -- and tore it to shreds, replacing it with a page from a New York playbook so old that Bill Parcells wore it out at the edges.

Evoking the Tuna's favorite line from back then, "Power football wins", the Giants took the ball and crammed it directly down the Atlanta defense's proverbial throat. The game plan was about as subtle as a tire iron to the back of the head, and when it was over, a game that Atlanta led late in the second quarter and was a one-score game deep into the third quarter had evolved into a 24-2 beatdown.

"That's how it is, that's how we're supposed to play," Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora said, leaning against a wall in the bowels of MetLife Stadium. "We don't need to score 50 points, and we don't need to give up more than 10. We have to grind away."

Umenyiora, who's had his battles with the organization this fall, smiled while going on, "That's exactly the way it's supposed to be -- run the football, play good defense. If you have a team that can do that, man, there's no telling where you can go. Do that, and you can beat teams like that."

When Umenyiora said "Teams like that," he wasn't referring to the Falcons. He'd already moved on in his train of thought to the Packers. He knows his team will go into Lambeau Field next week a heavy underdog against an offense that's been close to unstoppable all year. He also knows he's been in this type of situation before, back in 2007, when the Giants turned Super Bowl XLII into a street fight and shocked the previously undefeated Patriots.

In fact, both NFC playoff matchups next week provide a bit of a referendum on style of play. The Giants will try again to reprise their old ways (which they lost for chunks of 2011), and the 49ers will act similarly in trying to beat the favored and high-flying Saints.

The truth is that it's too simplistic to say that the underdogs simply can't score with their opponents. Here's proof: seven of 11 Super Bowl champions since 2000 ranked 15th or lower in the NFL in total offense, while eight of 11 were top nine in total defense. To translate that, teams that play like the Niners did all year, or the Giants did on Sunday, generally win at this time of year, and can take big-time aerial attacks out of their comfort zone.

"This is a Giant type of win -- physical win," Brandon Jacobs said in a private moment by his locker. "The defense played well, gave them no points. Only points they had was the safety. We started to control the line of scrimmage in the second half. Ahmad (Bradshaw) and myself started running the ball. Eli got in on a couple chunks. And that's what we've gotta be able to do."

More to the point, where they won this game was at the line of scrimmage. And the Giants' advantage there was abundantly clear on vital fourth-and-1 stops early in the second quarter and late in the third quarter, both on Matt Ryan quarterback sneaks and a sprit-killing third-and-1 tackle-for-loss on Michael Turner by Chase Blackburn and Antrel Rolle at the end of the third quarter.

Meanwhile, the Giants' running game, which struggled to get untracked in the first quarter (4 carries, 6 yards), was breaking the dam on the Falcons defense. Jacobs and Bradshaw finished with a combined 155 yards on 28 carries. Just like old times.

"It's about the bigs -- on both sides of the ball," Giants general manager Jerry Reese said, laying out his philosophy. "If you don't have the bigs, it's hard to win in this league. Our big guys took over the game up front. They go unnoticed so much, and everybody talked about how it's mix-and-match offensive line. Well, we rushed for 172 yards. And the defensive front, you talk about how we rush the passer, but to make those third-, fourth-down stops? That was huge for us. Huge. It's about the big guys."

If Reese sounds a little indignant in saying that, then indulge him. This team played, when it counted most, just the way it was built to play.

Early in the second quarter, it was easy to look at this one and call it "ugly." By the second half, though, the ugliness led to wide creases for the backs and longer runs on the score sheet. If this one didn't resemble a 7-on-7 drill like so many other games this year have, and bothers you, well, then that's your problem -- not New York's problem.

"I would love to see what the time of possession was," Justin Tuck said. "I felt like we did a great job on offense, of keeping their offense off the field. And then we got on it, obviously we got a shutout on defense, stopped their running game, Matt didn't get any big plays, and that's what I think everyone remembers of the old Giants football teams -- defense first, and just a team effort. Nothing spectacular."

Jacobs put it more succinctly, "Go right at 'em, that's what it is. And we're doing it at the right time."

And center Davis Baas noted that even when it didn't look right early on, all 53 guys in blue, plus their coaches, knew to give it time. The effect, as the old football saying goes, is like novacane. "We don't look up to the see the stats," Baas said. "Until the end, of course."

This brand of Giants football has taken hold at just the right time to test some old football theories on winning in the playoffs. The 49ers, too, will represent the old school way next weekend.

Over the years, more often than not, their style has trumped juiced up passing games when it counts.

This year, the year of the 5,000-yard passer, will provide the ultimate test. And we'll get to see in living color next weekend if, indeed, power football still wins.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer

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