...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).

Robert Streb shoots 63 and joins Jimmy Walker in lead at PGA

Robert Streb shoots 63 and joins Jimmy Walker in lead at PGA

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. (AP) -- In a major championship season of endless theater, the PGA Championship lived up to its end of the bargain Friday.

Robert Streb led the way, even if hardly anyone noticed.

As thousands of fans crammed into the closing holes at Baltusrol to see if Jason Day could finish off his amazing run and Phil Mickelson could make it to the weekend, Streb hit a 6-iron into 20 feet on his final hole at the par-3 ninth for a shot at 63.

He made the birdie putt during a TV commercial break, making him the 28th player to shoot 63 in a major, and the third in the last 16 days.

"It was pretty noisy for the 15 people that were out there," Streb said.

No matter where anyone was at Baltusrol, there was no shortage of entertainment.

Mickelson hit his opening tee shot off the property and onto a side street and made triple bogey, only to rally to make the cut. Rickie Fowler finished birdie-eagle to get back into the picture. Rory McIlroy only needed to birdie the par-5 18th, the easiest hole on the course, to make the cut. From the fairway, he made bogey and was headed home to figure out what was wrong with his putting.

A second round that began in rain with one group given the wrong hole location on No. 10 ended with Streb and Jimmy Walker sharing the lead and becoming the eighth and ninth players to match the 36-hole record in the PGA Championship at 131.

Walker had to settle for a 4-under 66, right when he had the 36-hole record for all majors (130) within his reach with two par 5s remaining. But he hit into the hospitality area well left of the 17th and scrambled for par, and then his tee shot narrowly missed its mark and found the water on the 18th, leading to bogey.

Even so, he was tied at the halfway point of a major.

"It's going to be a new experience, and it will be fun," Walker said. "You still have to go perform. Doesn't matter what tournament it is."

Day dropped to even par with a double bogey on No. 7, and that appeared to wake up the world's No. 1 player. Day went on a tear with seven birdies over his next eight holes, two of them from 18 feet, one of them from 35 feet. Suddenly, he was on the verge of a shot at 63 until he hooked his tee shot to the base of the hospitality area on the 17th, and pushed a driving iron into the right rough on the 18th. He settled for pars at both for a 65.

Day was right where he wanted to be, three shots behind going into the weekend, his name high on the leaderboard for everyone to see. At stake is a chance to join Tiger Woods as the only back-to-back PGA champions since the stroke-play era began in 1958.

Day was joined at 7-under 133 by Emiliano Grillo, the talented young Argentine who worked hard on his putting at Baltusrol and watched it pay off. Grillo got this afternoon of birdies going by making five of them in a seven-hole stretch on the back nine until he cooled on the front and had to settle for a 67.

This is new territory for him, too.

Just like Walker and Streb, he has never even contended in a major.

"I've never been in this situation, and I'm not afraid of it," Grillo said. "I'm going to go out and enjoy it."

By the end of the day, it was easy to overlook a familiar figure - Henrik Stenson, the British Open champion who made eagle on the 18th at the turn and polished off another 67. He was only four shots behind in his bid to match Ben Hogan as the only players to win two straight majors at age 40.

Mickelson made the cut, and that might have been the most entertaining of all.

He began his round with a tee shot so far left that it sailed off the property, bounced along Shunpike Road and caromed to the left down Baltusrol Way. Wherever it finished, it was out-of-bounds, and Mickelson had to scramble for a triple bogey. He spent the rest of the day battling to get back, and he delivered on the 18th with a birdie to post a 70.

"I think in the history of the PGA Championship, that's the worst start of any player's round. I'd have to look it up," Mickelson said.

No need to. Someone pointed out that Nicolas Colsaerts piped two over the fence and made 8.

"I'm having a difficult time right now managing my expectations, because I know how well I'm playing and I'm so result-oriented that I'm not playing very relaxed, free golf like I did at the British, like I did in the preparation here," Mickelson said.

Two weeks ago at Royal Troon, where Mickelson opened with a 63 and Stenson close with a 63, it was just those two players in a duel that ranked among the greatest.

At Baltusrol, a dozen players were separated by five shots going into the weekend, a group that included Martin Kaymer (69). Jordan Spieth was finally back in the mix, at least on the fringes, after a hot start that led to a 67. He was in the group six shots behind.

The biggest surprise was Streb, who became the fourth player with a 63 at Baltusrol. Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf each had 63 in the opening round of the 1980 U.S. Open, and Thomas Bjorn shot 63 in the third round in the 2005 PGA Championship.

Streb hasn't had a top 10 on the PGA Tour since he tied for 10th in the PGA Championship last year. He found something in his swing a few weeks ago, birdied the last four holes a week ago Friday in the Canadian Open just to make the cut, and grabbed a sliver of history at Baltusrol.

Justin Morneau returns to White Sox lineup, Target Field for first time

Justin Morneau returns to White Sox lineup, Target Field for first time

MINNEAPOLIS -- If the White Sox needed a reminder how much they missed having a left-handed bat earlier this season, the last two games without Justin Morneau confirmed it.

Forced out of the lineup because of National League rules, Morneau on Friday returned to a White Sox lineup that struggled in his absence in a pair of losses at Wrigley Field. It’s the same issue that has dogged the White Sox throughout the regular season until Morneau was activated two weeks ago after Adam LaRoche unexpectedly retired.

Friday’s contest also marked Morneau’s first regular season appearance at Target Field against his former since he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2013.

“When he’s not in there it really changes a lot of the dynamic for us of where guys are, how deep your lineup is, as well as just having a really good left-hander in the middle of it, a consistent guy who not only can hit, but takes pitches, walks, is a threat and he’s not a half bad guy,” manager Robin Ventura said. “He’s back here and I think guys are happy for him that he’s back here as well.”

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

There’s little doubt the White Sox missed Morneau at Wrigley Field when they combined for 10 hits and were outscored 11-2 by the Cubs in two losses. Even though he’s only two weeks removed from the disabled list, Morneau has already offered the White Sox the balance they desperately needed in the middle of the order since LaRoche called it quits.

Morneau, who had elbow surgery in December and then rushed to get back as quickly as he could after he signed in June, likes how his swing has progressed so far. Perhaps the one upside to his absence -- Morneau said the two-day break has him feeling even better as the White Sox opened a three-game series at the Minnesota Twins.

“The swing feels good,” Morneau said. “A couple days off helped my body recover a little and sort of recharge the battery coming in here. I feel I can go up there and battle, like I can put at-bats together, guys in scoring position all that stuff. It’s fun to be out there in situations, that’s what I kind of enjoy the most.

"The amount of work it takes to get ready isn’t the fun part, but stepping into the batter’s box and battling those guys is really all we play for. I’m comfortable doing that, and it’s good.”

Even with the addition of Todd Frazier’s team-leading 29 home runs, the White Sox offense has only shown slight improvement this season in part because the team was so right-handed heavy until Morneau was activated on July 15. The White Sox entered Friday having scored four runs per game, which is up from 3.84 in 2015. The team carried a .699 OPS against right-handers into the game.

Even though LaRoche had the worst season of his life in 2015, the White Sox were short-handed once he retired. The original plan had been a rotation between Melky Cabrera-Austin Jackson-Avisail Garcia and LaRoche between two outfield spots and the DH role. Instead, Garcia was forced into full-time action and Ventura often had to bat Melky Cabrera in the fifth spot to break up a run of four straight right-handed bats in the middle of the order.

Despite improved production from Frazier and Brett Lawrie at second, the White Sox have been inconsistent all season. Thursday’s loss was the 49th time in 102 games they scored three or fewer runs. Ventura said the need for a lefty bat implored the White Sox to take a risk and sign Morneau without knowing what they’ll receive.

[RELATED: Robin Ventura doesn't want to see Sale or Quintana traded]

“I think that’s the reason why we ended up going on a limb a little bit and going with him knowing we’d have to wait to have him in our lineup,” Ventura said. “Once we lost Adam we became very right-hand dominant. It’s tough to have for Jose and those guys to be in there and not have that left-right combo that you’d like to have.”

Morneau received the welcome he expected from the Twins fanbase. Even though he now wears a White Sox uniform, Morneau was received well. The American League Most Valuable Player in 2006, Morneau played for the Twins from 2003-13. His wife’s family lives locally and Morneau said he spends part of every offseason here.

“You never know when you go to a rival or play for a team in the same division that we battled against for so many years here, and to go on the other side of it, some people’s feeling might not be as warm as you’d hope them to be,” Morneau said. “But for the most people have been great to me and I don’t think I’d really expect anything else.”

Preview: Arrieta, Cubs look to stay hot vs. Mariners Saturday on CSN

Preview: Arrieta, Cubs look to stay hot vs. Mariners Saturday on CSN

Jake Arrieta and the Cubs look to stay hot against the Mariners on Saturday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Wade Miley (6-8, 5.23 ERA) vs. Jake Arrieta (12-4, 2.76 ERA)

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