What it means: The Giants' formula worked. They believed they came into the playoffs playing defense and running the ball as well as they have been at any time this season, and they went out and played their best defensive game and best rushing game of the season. They knew that the key would be to pressure Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan with their front four, and they did that. And when they were having trouble in pass protection, they were able to switch to the run game to keep Atlanta's front four off Eli Manning.
Nicks' turn: The Giants' big-play receiver the past few weeks had been Victor Cruz, who had a 99-yard touchdown catch on Christmas Eve against the Jets and a 74-yard touchdown catch last week in the division clincher against the Cowboys. This time, it was Hakeem Nicks who delivered the backbreaker against the Falcons, catching a short Manning pass with less than three minutes left in the third quarter and taking it 72 yards to the end zone for the score that put the Giants up 17-2.
Smothering: New York's defense pitched a shutout, as the Falcons' only points came on a safety, and their offense never got near the end zone. The Giants got pressure up the middle with defensive tackles Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard. They stuffed the Falcons on two key fourth-and-short situations (the second of which almost immediately preceded the big Nicks play). And while they lost two key secondary pieces in Deon Grant and Aaron Ross to injuries, the defensive front made sure Ryan didn't have a chance to take advantage.
Ground game surfaces: The Giants ranked 32nd in the 32-team NFL in rushing yards this season, but this looked like a different team. They'd been better running the ball over the final five games of the season, but this was a dominating rushing performance. Brandon Jacobs ripped off a key 34-yard gain and converted a fourth-and-1 on the Giants' first scoring drive. He and Ahmad Bradshaw split carries, and both ran with power and determination behind an offensive line that has blocked for the run better and better each week.
Looking ahead: Those injuries to Ross and Grant -- which are a concussion and a groin injury, respectively -- could be a problem if they linger into next week. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is far more mobile than Ryan is, and he should be able to buy more time to find his receivers deep in the secondary even if the Giants can pressure him the way they hassled Ryan. But that's a worry for next week. Right now, the Giants are flying high and into the second round.
What's next: The Giants travel to Green Bay, Wis., where they will play the 15-1 defending Super Bowl champion Packers at 4:30 p.m. ET on Jan. 15. A victory would put the Giants in the NFC Championship Game against the Saints or 49ers.