ATLANTA — The 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 eclipsed his own franchise records for completions and passing yards in a season. Ryan 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.
New York (8-6) dropped into a first-place tie with Washington and Dallas in the NFC East, and were shut out one week after putting up 52 points on the Saints.
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. 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.’’
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 coach Mike Smith and Ryan came aboard 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,’’ 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.’’
Manning threw his first pick on the second play of scrimmage, leaving the Falcons needing just 16 yards to get their first touchdown. Lawrence Tynes missed a 30-yard field goal attempt on the Giants’ next possession, and Ryan followed with an 80-yard touchdown drive.
‘‘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.’’