Staff Photo: Jason Braverman — Atlanta Falcons' Tony Gonzalez (88) celebrates Julio Jones' touchdown catch during Sunday's game against the New York Gianta at the Georgia Dome.
ATLANTA — Frauds, pretenders: The Atlanta Falcons have been called both, and worse, this season.
They undoubtedly changed some of those perceptions Sunday, with a convincing beat down of the defending Super Bowl champions that had to impress even their biggest doubters.
Matt Ryan passed for 270 yards and three touchdowns, and the Falcons' defense dominated from the opening kickoff in a 34-0 rout of the New York Giants at the Georgia Dome.
The win keeps the Falcons (12-2) atop the race for the No. 1 seed out of the NFC and avenges last year's ugly 24-2 playoff loss to the Giants in New York. A loss by the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night at New England would clinch a first-round bye for the Falcons, who finish at Detroit on Thursday and at home against Tampa Bay.
"They don't remember what you do in September and October," said Falcons coach Mike Smith. "It's all about December and January. We haven't played our best game and when we watch the game tomorrow, we'll probably have that same opinion."
The Giants (8-6) have lost four of six and remain locked in a tight battle for the NFC East with games against Baltimore and Philadelphia remaining. New York was shut out for the first time since a 23-0 playoff loss against Carolina in 2005 and just one week after scoring 52 in a win over New Orleans.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin summed it up by saying, "Atlanta was very, very good; we were very, very bad."
Coughlin added, "We have two games to play. There is a lot of fire and a lot of character in that locker room. We have to come back from a devastating loss and shake it off somehow, someway."
Ryan completed his first eight passes to six different receivers and broke his own team records for completions and yards in a season during his best performance of the year. He finished 23-of-28 with two touchdowns to Julio Jones and another to Tony Gonzalez.
Jones finished with six catches for 74 yards and touchdowns of 40 and 3 yards.
The first half was all Atlanta. So was the second.
The Falcons picked off Eli Manning twice in the first half and pressured him relentlessly. Asante Samuel intercepted Manning on the Giants' first possession, setting up Atlanta on the New York 16. Four plays later, Michael Turner barreled in from a yard out to put the Falcons up 7-0, three minutes into the game.
Thomas DeCoud also got Manning with a diving interception that led to Matt Bryant's 38-yard field goal and a 17-0 Atlanta lead early in the second quarter.
"We had some opportunities in the first half to get ourselves in the game and make it competitive," said Coughlin. "We weren't able to accomplish any of that."
Manning completed 14-of-26 passes for 161 yards with two interceptions.
The Giants had four drives inside Falcons' territory, but came up with no points. Lawrence Tynes missed a field goal, and the Giants failed to convert on three fourth-down attempts.
"Those three fourth-down stops are like turnovers," Smith said. "We know that when you make them as a football team it can change the momentum. It multiplies when you stop them on defense."
Notes: A moment of silence was observed to pay respects for those impacted in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Conn., Friday. ... Giants receiver Victor Cruz wore the name of one of the victims, 6-year-old Jack Pinto, on his gloves and cleats. The entire team wore a "SHES" decal on their helmets for Sandy Hook Elementary School. ... Giants leading rusher Ahmad Bradshaw (left knee) missed his first game of the season. ... Falcons safety William Moore missed his second straight game with injured ribs. Chris Hope started in Moore's place, but was hurt in the second quarter and had to leave the game but did return. ... Michael Turner passed William Andrews and moved into second place on the Falcons' all-time rushing leader list.