...unlike this NFC mismatch

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...unlike this NFC mismatch

From Comcast SportsNetATLANTA (AP) -- 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 touchdowns 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 of 28 for 270 yards."I felt like I was seeing the field well," Ryan said.The Falcons (12-2), who have already clinched the NFC South, moved a step closer to home-field 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 game since 2007 for New York (8-6), which dropped into a first-place tie with Washington and Dallas in the NFC East. The Redskins and the Cowboys both won Sunday.The Giants also went 0-for-3 on fourth down and missed a short 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 quarterback in 2008, going 0-3.But one thing the Falcons never seem to do anymore is lose two straight games. They extended the NFL's longest active streak since consecutive defeats to 49 games, going back to the 2009 season."Our focus was heightened from other weeks," coach Mike Smith said. "We've got a lot of great leaders and mentors in that locker room. They took the message from the meetings and took it out on the field."After thoroughly dominating the Giants, the Falcons have surely sent a resounding message to the rest of the league: beware of this team in the playoffs."Last week everybody was talking smack about us," defensive end John Abraham said. "We just continue what we're doing."For the Giants, it was a miserable performance when they controlled their own destiny, at a time of year when they normally play some of their best football.Manning threw his first pick on the second play of scrimmage, setting up a quick Atlanta touchdown. Coughlin made a curious call late in the first half, passing up another short field goal attempt when his team was almost 2 yards shy of the marker. Samuel batted down a short pass intended for Victor Cruz, sending Atlanta to the locker room with a commanding 17-0 lead and all the momentum."I was thinking we needed to engender a lift for our sideline," Coughlin said. "That did not work out either."Nothing did.The tone was set right away.When Manning attempted to hit Hakeem Nicks on a short pass to the right, Samuel stepped in to make the interception and return it to the Giants 16. From there, Michael Turner ran it four straight times, the last of those a 1-yard plunge that gave Atlanta a 7-0 lead less than 3 minutes into the game.It was all Falcons after Lawrence Tynes missed a chip shot kick from 30 yards, ruining an impressive second possession by the Giants. Atlanta took it 80 yards from there, with Ryan going to Harry Douglas on a 37-yard gain for the biggest play. Then, on third-and-11 from the 12, Ryan went to his favorite target, Tony Gonzalez, in the end zone. The 16-year veteran leaped over safety Will Hill to haul in the high throw -- and hopped up quickly for his customary dunk over the goalposts.Manning finished 13 of 25 for 161 yards, leaving him with a dismal 38.9 rating -- his worst since a Dec. 23, 2007, win at Buffalo."We have two games left and we have to win those two games," Manning said. "What else happens after that, we don't know and can't control."Early in the second half, the Falcons blew it open on Ryan's 40-yard touchdown pass to Jones down the left sideline. Finally, after a drive that used up more than 9 minutes in the fourth quarter, Ryan went to Jones for a 3-yard TD.The Giants turned it over one more time in the closing minutes, finishing off their first shutout in the regular season since a 24-0 defeat at Philadelphia on Dec. 1, 1996. The performance came just a week after they put up 52 points on the New Orleans Saints.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. Even more touchingly, 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."NOTES:More recently, the Giants were shut out in the playoffs after the 2005 season, losing at Carolina 23-0. ... Ryan has thrown for 4,202 yards and 27 touchdowns this season. ... There was one bright spot for Manning: He set a franchise record for career completions with 2,585, moving past the mark held by Phil Simms (2,576).

OFFSEASON

A closer look at the five signings by the Boston Celtics

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A closer look at the five signings by the Boston Celtics

BOSTON – It’s official.

The Boston Celtics announced the signings of what should be the last moves made of significance between now and training camp.

All five players bring different strengths to the table, as well as areas of concern.

But more than anything else, they provide depth for a team that has made depth a calling card of sorts.

Here we’ll break down each of the newest Celtics, what they bring to the table this season, as well as do a little crystal-ball watching as to what their role should be for this upcoming season.

Gerald Green

Career stats: A nine-year veteran, Green has appeared in 497 games while averaging 10.0 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.0 assists while shooting 36.1 percent on 3s.

Last season (in Miami): Green averaged 8.9 points in 22.4 minutes per game while shooting 39.2 percent from the field and 32.3 percent on 3s.

The former Celtics draft pick returns to where his NBA dream began, albeit in a much different role. When he arrived as the 18th pick in the 2005 draft, Green was an athletic, above-the-rim freak of nature. Not too soon after that, he won the league’s Slam Dunk competition. From there, Green’s game showed little growth, which led to a two-plus seasons (2009-2012) in which he played overseas and in the D-League. The time away didn’t do much for him financially, but it did result in his game becoming more complete. His time in the NBA over the past five seasons has shown him to be more than just a human highlight waiting to happen. The 6-7 forward has become a more consistent 3-point shooter as he now boosts a career average of 36.1 percent. And he returns in a more humble state than when he arrived. His role is yet to be defined, but the need to add him became a necessity with James Young still not displaying the kind of growth that makes Boston feel comfortable with putting him on the floor to play meaningful minutes. Green won’t play huge minutes, but he’s the kind of X-factor that could help Boston win four or five games this season. And that could be the difference between a tough first-round playoff matchup that begins on the road, or a postseason that starts off at the TD Garden.

TYLER ZELLER

Career stats: Zeller has appeared in 289 games, averaging 7.6 points, 4.7 rebounds while shooting 50.1 percent from the field.

Last season (in Boston): Saw his role diminish significantly from the previous season, averaging 6.1 points and a career-low 3.0 rebounds per game in 11.8 minutes – also a career-low mark.

Throughout the year, Zeller’s patience was rewarded with an unexpected rush of minutes and more often than not, he came through. Having a player who does more than just buy into the concept of always staying ready but proves it time and time again, has tremendous value on this team. The 26-year-old center has shown flashes of being a reliable rotation player for Boston. Even with the changes, Zeller remains arguably their best finisher at the basket among the team’s centers. He will come into camp and just as it has been in the past, will compete for playing time. But most likely he’ll find himself in a similar situation where his minutes will be infrequent. But having said that, Zeller knows his chance to play will come and the Celtics know there will be games where Zeller’s activity, rebounding and scoring at the basket will be needed. And when that time comes, they know he’ll be ready.

Jaylen Brown

Career stats (at Cal): In his lone season at Cal, Brown averaged 14.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists while shooting 43.1 percent from the field and 27.4 percent on 3s.

Taken by Boston with the third overall pick in last month’s NBA draft, expectations for a player selected so high are usually well, really high. Brown won’t have the pressure that most high lottery (top-14) picks have when they come into the NBA. As it was laid out to CSNNE.com by Brown’s mental skills coach Graham Betchart, Brown’s focus is on controlling what he can control and not getting overly caught up in results. You never want to put too much stock in what happens during summer league, but Brown showed certain strengths during summer league that typically translate well against better competition which he will face during the regular season. He averaged 10.2 free throw attempts per game, which is impressive, summer league or no summer league. He won’t live at the line nearly as much this season, but the aggressive nature of his play was a positive. And like signing Green, Brown also provides a high level of athleticism that has been in short supply on this team in recent years. As for his role this season, look for Brown to be used at both small forward and power forward for Boston as Jae Crowder’s backup.

Demetrius Jackson

Career stats (at Notre Dame): 11.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists while shooting 46.1 percent from the field and 38.1 percent on 3s.

Last season (at Notre Dame): 15.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.7 assists while shooting 45.1 percent from the field and 33.1 percent on 3s.

After talking with scouts shortly after last month’s draft, many were stunned that Jackson fell as far as he did (No. 45 overall, 15th pick in second round) on draft night. There’s no consensus as to why that happened, either. Winding up in Boston while may not necessarily be the best fit for Jackson in terms of getting on the court immediately, but it should do wonders for his growth and longevity in the NBA. He will see first-hand the work ethic of Avery Bradley, a first-team all-NBA defender as well as Bradley’s backcourt mate, All-Star Isaiah Thomas. The growth in Terry Rozier’s game provides Jackson with tangible proof of what can happen by watching and absorbing the teachings of more seasoned players at your position. But don’t think for a minute that he’s just going to stand idly by, folks. Jackson is a good player who will not back down from any of his more accomplished backcourt mates. He will eventually develop into a decent scorer in this league who has the kind of lateral quickness and instincts (he averaged better than one steal per game in three seasons at Notre Dame) that should serve him well in the NBA. But barring a Celtics trade, Boston’s backcourt depth will likely result in him spending most of his rookie season with the team’s Development league affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.

Ben Bentil

Career stats (at Providence College): 13.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 0.9 assists per game.

Last season (at Providence College): 21.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game.

Another player who was projected to go higher than he did (51st overall, No. 21 pick in the second round) on draft night, Bentil is an intriguing prospect. The 6-foot-8 forward led the Big East in scoring last season, doing so with Kris Dunn – arguably the nation’s top point guard and the fifth overall pick in this year’s draft – getting him the ball a lot. Bentil has the kind of build and inside-outside game that more and more teams are looking to add to their roster. He showed flashes of that during summer league, but not enough to where you feel he can come in and contribute immediately. Barring trades or injuries to the frontcourt, Bentil will spend a large chunk of this season with the Red Claws.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be followed on Twitter: @SherrodbCSN

Curran: Jimmy G. Era is a reminder of what NFL did to Brady

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Curran: Jimmy G. Era is a reminder of what NFL did to Brady

FOXBORO -- So I guess this would be the official start of the Jimmy Garoppolo Era?

It is -- by Belichickian decree -- his team from now until October 3. He’s the lead dog, the head honcho, the big chief, the alpha male, head cheese, capo di tutti capi. For 67 days -- that’s from now until October 3, when Tom Brady can legally walk back into Gillette Stadium after his four-game banishment -- Garoppolo gets his dry run as The Man.

Brady, obviously, will be out there and -- especially during the early stages of training camp -- there will be an effort to make sure there’s no toe-stepping. Proper deference will shown to the future Hall of Famer.

But that will start to fade as the games draw closer and the urgency to be ready for Arizona grows. Believe it or not, the bus for Arizona is already idling (figuratively) and if you ain’t gonna be on it when it pulls out of town, you’ll need to step aside for the ones who will be.

That includes Brady, the greatest quarterback of all-time. We really don’t have to plumb the details of how absurd, unfair, unethical and flat-out wrong Brady’s suspension is. It’s pretty well-established. The reality is, Brady is the clipboard-holder for the first time since September 2001.

Enter Diamond Jimmy.

And watch New Englanders now stagger into an awkward embrace of the third-year quarterback. This process has actually been going on for a little while now. A lot of it was -- aside from the maniac radio callers -- done in hushed tones with a hand cupped over the mouth. “Ya know, I actually am looking forward to watching Garoppolo. See what we got there.”

On the face of it, I understand the sentiment. There’s a second-round pick with a lightning release, good feet, excellent touch and impressive accuracy. If you like football, you like watching football players play football to see if they are good at it.

But it’s gone beyond that, I sense. There is a swath of the populace looking forward to four regular-season games of Jimmy. Some want to see him showcased and turned into a pick. Others think the four games rest will be beneficial for Brady. Others are simply bored by regular-season games and the Patriots' annual inexorable march to the playoffs and so this adds a little spice.

You idiots.

I don’t care what your excuse is, every snap that Garoppolo takes in 2016 should be taken as a personal affront. A flick in the tender region from the NFL, the 31 other “Roger has a tough job” owners and Goodell himself.

But besides that, we’re talking about one-quarter of an NFL season that will be missed by the best player the Patriots will ever have. Would you people have wished away 20 more games from Bill Russell, Larry Bird or Bobby Orr in the '60s, '70s and '80s just to see what Satch Sanders, Kevin Gamble or Mike Milbury could do?

So -- for football’s sake -- I say go ahead and enjoy the Garoppolo administration. But don’t get too carried away trying to put a buff-and-shine on the turd the NFL dropped on Foxboro.

Thursday, July 28: Will the Bruins end up with Jimmy Vesey?

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Thursday, July 28: Will the Bruins end up with Jimmy Vesey?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading after a pretty amazing, on-point succession of speeches by Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg and Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention last night. It was quite a contrast to the absolute circus sideshow that went on in Cleveland last week.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Greg Wyshynksi chronicles the Jimmy Vesey Sweepstakes, and the late entry of the Chicago Blackhawks as a suitor. Wysh still feels, as I do, that the Bruins end up getting this talented player at the end of the day.

*The details of the charges levied against Evander Kane paint an ugly picture of a hockey player doing a lot of the wrong things.

*PHT writer Mike Halford says that the Carolina Hurricanes might be ready to snap their playoff drought after extending head coach Bill Peters.

*John Tavares tells the Toronto media not to count on him ever pulling over a Maple Leafs jersey amid post-Stamkos speculation.

*Well, would you look at this? The Nashville Predators are providing salary cap and contract info on their own team website. What a concept!

*The Edmonton Oilers say they will have a new captain in place by opening night, and it will be interesting to see if they go the Connor McDavid route.

*Brian Elliott is thrilled at the opportunity to be “the man” between the pipes for the Calgary Flames this season after splitting time in St. Louis.

*For something completely different: a great feature on Howard Stern, and his transformation from shock jock to master interviewer.

Joe Haggerty can be followed on Twitter: @HacksWithHaggs