EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Just as the Atlanta Falcons were about to have their season buried in the swampy Meadowlands across from Giants Stadium, Doug Johnson refused to buckle.
The third-year backup quarterback, in his first start since December 2000, made plenty of big plays in the Falcons' 17-10 victory over New York on Sunday afternoon.
It's too early to tell if the season can be salvaged, but Johnson did more than fill in for injured starter Michael Vick. He prevented Atlanta (2-3) from losing ground on a day in which NFC South rivals Tampa Bay and New Orleans each improved to 5-1.
"Huge win," Johnson said. "I mean we can get to 3-3 next week, and that puts us right back in the ballgame. Coming in here and winning on the road shows we can do it. We had our backs against the wall and we came into a loud environment and got the job done."
Johnson completed 19 of 25 passes for 257 yards and helped produce both touchdowns. He handled the adversity of fumbling on each of his two sacks
The former Florida standout also ran for his first NFL touchdown when he faked celebrated New York cornerback Jason Sehorn for a 15-yard touchdown run that gave the Falcons a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Equally impressive was Johnson's game management on his touchdown pass to Brian Finneran with 8:06 remaining. On first-and-10 at the Giants' 14, Johnson called an audible after New York adjusted its three interior linemen together in a "Bear" front.
Instead of handing off to a running back, Johnson called a pass play in which Finneran, who was lined up on the left side, would run a crossing route and split the field with tight end Reggie Kelly. Finneran is supposed to block a linebacker and free Kelly, but the tight end was held up at the line of scrimmage and never emerged.
"Brian's not even really a look on that play," Johnson said. "He's supposed to be a decoy. He ran through there wide-open, and I was able to see him after going through my reads."
Other players made substantial contributions, too.
Johnson and Finneran never would've connected on the game's final score if cornerback Juran Bolden hadn't intercepted Kerry Collins' pass over the middle to Ike Hilliard at the Atlanta 5 early in the fourth. Later in the locker room, Bolden couldn't remember the play.
"Actually, I forgot I caught the ball because somebody came and said they cold-cocked me, and my whole head hit the ground," Bolden said. "I'm still woozy right now. My head is spinning."
He had no trouble recalling the Giants' previous possession, a 12-play, 70-yard drive that ended Hilliard burning Bolden and catching Collins' 18-yard touchdown pass in the right side of the end zone midway through the third.
Nickel cornerback Kevin Mathis ended New York's last substantial threat, another 12-play drive in which the Giants drove from their 30 to the Atlanta 36. On fourth-and-three, Collins completed a 19-yarder over the middle to Ron Dixon, but free safety Keion Carpenter held the receiver's feet long enough for strong safety Henry Jones to knock the ball loose.
Mathis, who partially tore his right medial collateral ligament on the last play of the game, fell on the fumble at the Falcons' 15 with 3:22 remaining.
"I saw Keion Carpenter come up to hit him, and (Dixon) had the ball out kind loose, so I just decided it was a chance for me to go for the football," Jones said. "It worked out well for us. We were able to jump on it."
Receiver Shawn Jefferson and tight end Alge Crumpler caught important passes. Jefferson's 63-yard reception, his longest in three seasons with Atlanta and the fourth-longest of his 12-year career, came on a play-action fake two plays after Bolden's interception.
"I remember Doug coming in the huddle and saying, 'Look, I need good protection on this,' and I remember him telling T.J., 'I need a great fake on this,"' Jefferson said. "Doug hung it up there, and I went and got it."
Jefferson also caught an 11-yarder that converted the Falcons' last third down with the Giants having no timeouts. Crumpler hauled in a 30-yarder over the middle to set up Jay Feely's 31-yard field goal at the end of the second quarter.
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