Browns Steal 26-24 Victory From Falcons in Final Minute

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Billy Cundiff nails the game-winner

The Atlanta Falcons dropped another one in the final seconds with a 26-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns at home. Browns kicker Billy Cundiff hit a game-winning 37-yard field goal as time expired. The Falcons had previously had what they hoped was their own game-winner from Matt Bryant with 49 seconds left on the clock to take a 24-23 lead, but the Browns were able to march down the field in the final minute to steal the victory. The Falcons record falls to 4-7 on the season.

Matt Ryan was erratic throughout the day, but finished with 273 yards passing, two touchdowns and one interception while completing 27 of 43 attempts. Steven Jackson led rushers on the ground with 34 yards on 13 carries and also rushed for a touchdown. Jacquizz Rodgers added 16 yards on three carries, while Devonta Freeman only gained seven on five carries. Roddy White led receivers with nine catches for 96 yards. Julio Jones caught one of Ryan’s touchdowns, a 24-harder, and finished with five catches for 68 yards. Rodgers had another of Ryan’s touchdowns, and had three catches for 11 yards on the day. Devin Hester added four catches for 50 yards. Bryant made his lone field goal attempt from 53 yards out. Matt Bosher punted four times for an average of 44.5 yards with two placed inside the 20-yard line. Devin Hester returned a punt for 12 yards and averaged 21 yards on four kickoff returns. The Falcons converted nine of 16 third-down attempts and were efficient in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on both of their trips there. They also gained 315 yards of total offense on what was a mostly productive offensive day, but not quite to the degree to win the game. Along with Ryan’s interception, he also lost a fumble.

Defensively, the Falcons were able to create a trio of turnovers but got gashed to the tune of 475 yards of total, a season-high for the Browns. A struggling Browns ground attack also managed 162 rushing yards against the Falcons. The Falcons defense did however get stops on third downs, allowing just four third-down conversions on 10 attempts. They also stalled the Browns in the red zone, as they only scored a touchdown on one of six red-zone trips. Kemal Ishmael led the defense with 11 stops, as well as grabbing one of the team’s three interceptions. Joplo Bartu (eight tackles); Kroy Biermann (five tackles, one sack); Robert McClain (six tackles); Dezmen Southward (two tackles, one interception); Desmond Trufant (three tackles, one interception) and Paul Worrilow (six tackles) had noteworthy performances.

The Falcons were able to convert their first third down of the game, as Ryan hit White for a 20-yard gain over the middle on 3rd-and-7. The Falcons had another opportunity to convert a 3rd-and-7 a few plays later, thanks in part due to a drop by Jones on second down along the sideline. On that third down, Ryan tried to thread the needle to Harry Douglas, but the pass was broken up Browns cornerback Justin Gilbert. That led to a Falcons punt on the opening drive.

Josh Wilson got a stop on the opening play of the Browns drive, stuffing running back Isaiah Crowell for no gain. But the Browns converted on the next play with an 11-yard catch by wide receiver Miles Austin. Crowell then tripped in the backfield for a three-yard loss. A few plays later on third down, the Browns attempted to go deep to wide receiver Josh Gordon, but Trufant was there to break up the pass to force a Browns punt. Hester nearly broke the punt, gaining 12 yards to start the Falcons at their 43-yard line to start the next series.

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Julio Jones celebrates after his initial score

The Falcons were able to begin to move the ball against the Browns on the next drive, getting into Browns territory after two plays thanks to a nine-yard grab from White. converting a first down on a four-yard scramble by Ryan on 3rd-and-3 three plays later. After converting another third down on toss to Freeman, Ryan attempted a deep shot to Jones that was off the mark. But Ryan went back to the same well and found Jones wide open over the middle, who made the catch to score on a 24-yard play. The Falcons had taken an early 7-0 lead on a 10-play, 57-yard scoring drive with less than six minutes remaining in the first quarter.

However, the Browns were able to match them with a scoring drive of their own. The Browns converted their first third-down attempt of the drive with a 12-yard crossing pattern to Gordon. Browns running back Terrance West was bottled up by Biermann and Dwight Lowery three plays later to force a 3rd-and-4. Worrilow and Corey Peters made the stop after a three-yard run by Crowell to force a 4th-and-1. The Browns opted to go for it, but Hoyer’s pass floated over the head of fullback Ray Agnew. But Ishmael was flagged for a defensive holding call, giving the Browns a fresh set of downs. The Browns dialed up a screen to Gordon that gained them 22 yards. Two plays later, Crowell made a few moves to scamper into the end zone on an 11-yard play to tie the game. That capped off a 10-play, 80-yard drive by the Browns, tying the game at 7-7 with 1:40 left in the first quarter.

Ryan was sacked to start the next series, backing up the Falcons at their own three-yard line. Rodgers gained seven yards to get some yardage back as the first quarter came to a close. Ryan’s pass on the first play of the second quarter was intercepted by cornerback Joe Haden on a leaping grab when trying to throw an out to Jones. The Browns took over at the Falcons’ 29-yard line.

Hoyer scrambled for nine yards to put the Browns in the red zone to start the drive. But a few plays later on third down at the 15, Hoyer missed on a throw to Gordon in the end zone with Trufant in on tight coverage. The Browns settled for 33-yard field goal from Cundiff to push their lead to 10-7 with 13:17 left in the first half.

Ryan under threw Hester on his first pass of the ensuing drive, but the receiver managed to still make the grab for a 13-yard gain. That was followed by a seven-yard run by Steven Jackson up the middle. Ryan’s next pass was tipped by Browns linebacker Barkevious Mingo at the line to fall incomplete. Pressure got to Ryan on the next play, and linebacker Paul Kruger was able to strip him from behind. Desmond Bryant fell on the loose ball, and the Browns recovered at the Falcons’ 40-yard line.

Gordon made a catch over the middle for 17 yards to start the drive, but then Hoyer missed him over the middle on a roll out. That was followed by a fumble by Hoyer, who mishandled the shotgun snap, leading to a loss of four yards to set up a 3rd-and-14. The Browns failed to convert and had to settle for another field goal inside the red zone, this time a 37-yarder from Cundiff. That gave the Browns a 13-7 lead with 9:20 left in the second quarter.

Freeman started the drive with an 11-yard gain on a sweep right, but it was called back due to a holding penalty on White. Ryan tried another deep shot to Jones, but was once again off the mark. But White made up for his earlier mistake, converting a 3rd-and-11 with a 32-yard grab over the middle after Ryan extended the play out of the pocket. The Falcons however couldn’t convert on their next third-down attempt, as a miscommunication between Ryan and Douglas led to an incomplete pass on 3rd-and-4. The Falcons punted back to the Browns with less than six minutes left in the half.

Browns tight end Jim Dray drew a false start to start the drive, backing up the Browns to a 1st-and-15. But they eventually got it all back, converting on third down with a 17-yard pass to wide receiver Andrew Hawkins to put the ball near midfield. After a seven-yard run by Crowell to get into Falcons territory a few plays later, Hoyer’s pass to Dray was undercut by Ishmael for the interception. Ishmael ran 14 yards on the return to set up the Falcons next drive at the 50-yard line.

Ryan hit Jones deep over the middle for a 21-yard gain to start the drive, followed by an eight-yard catch by Levine Toilolo as the two-minute warning hit. The Falcons got in the red zone a few plays later, but on 2nd-and-4 from the Browns’ 13-yard line, Ryan overthrew Freeman on a wheel route in the end zone. But a five-yard play to Jones converted on 3rd-and-4, putting the ball at the eight-yard line with a minute left in the half. Rodgers scored on an eight-yard shovel pass up the middle to give the Falcons a 14-13 lead with 55 seconds left in the half.

The Browns started of the ensuing final drive of the half with a missed deep shot to Gordon, but then gained 19 yards on a screen pass to him on the very next play. Hawkins gained 14 yards two plays later, breaking a couple of tackles to get the ball into Falcons territory with 14 seconds left on the clock. Southward made an excellent open-field tackle on Hawkins on the following play, limiting him to a five-yard gain to force the Browns to call a timeout with eight seconds left on the clock. Hoyer then missed on a throw to a wide-open Gordon down the field, allowing the Browns to set up for a 60-yard field goal with three seconds left. The Falcons then caused a timeout just prior to Cundiff missing the kick, allowing the Browns to re-do it. Cundiff then missed a second time, and Hester fielded in the end zone. The Falcons receiver brought it out of the end zone and nearly returned it to the house, gaining 75 yards before Browns rookie guard Joel Bitonio made a touchdown-saving tackle at the Browns’ 31-yard line with time expired. The Falcons retained their 14-13 lead going into the half.

The Browns received the ball to start the second half. Gordon made a heads up play after fumbling on a reverse, deciding to throw the ball away rather than risk a huge loss of yards. That was followed up by a 40-yard play by Hawkins on a catch over the middle to get deep into Falcons territory. A pair of Crowell runs for a combined 12 yards gave the Browns a 2nd-and-goal from the Falcons’ five-yard line. Austin dropped Hoyer’s pass in the end zone, which was followed by a coverage sack by Biermann to force a Browns field goal. Cundiff hit the 32-yarded and the Browns re-took the lead 16-14 with less than 10 minutes to go in the third quarter.

Ryan overthrew Jones on a deep pass to start the ensuing Falcons series. But Ryan then hit Hester over the middle for a nine-yard gain to convert on 3rd-and-4 two plays later. On the ensuing third down, Ryan tried to avoid initial pressure by Kruger, but then while trying to escape the pocket, ran back into Kruger’s path for a sack and a loss of 12 yards. That led to a Bosher punt, and the Browns took over with 5:44 left in the third quarter at their 30-yard line.

Hoyer’s pass to Austin over the middle for a 13-yard gain converted on a 3rd-and-5 to put the ball near midfield. Pressure by Goodman caused Hoyer to scramble on the ensuing play to cross into Falcons territory on a three-yard gain. The Browns then fed West on three of their next four plays, who combined for 14 yards to move the ball deeper in Falcons territory. Then the Browns handed it off to Crowell, who made several Falcon defenders miss for a 26-yard scoring run to push Cleveland’s lead to 23-14 with less than a minute remaining in the third quarter.

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Desmond Trufant made a huge play in the back of the end zone

Hester converted on a 3rd-and-6 on the final play on the quarter with a 16-yard grab over the middle. The Falcons converted another third down three plays later when Ryan avoided pressure from Mingo off the edge and found an open Doulgas for a seven-yard gain. That play put the ball in Browns territory. Ryan connected on his next two passes to White and Toilolo to put the ball at the Browns’ 21-yard line. Ryan then forced a ball into double coverage to Jones near the goal line, but it was broken up by safety Tashaun Gipson, who crashed into Haden on the play and left the game with a knee injury. However, Haden was flagged for defensive holding which gave the Falcons a first down at the Browns’ 16-yard line. Jones caught a comeback pass for nine yards two plays later to set up the Falcons at the five-yard line. A four-yard grab on a pick play to White then put the ball down at the one-yard line. Jackson finished off the drive with the one-yard run up the middle to cut the Browns lead to 23-21 with 9:31 left in the game.

Dray was flagged for a hold on Malliciah Goodman, backing up the Browns to 1st-and-20 at the outset of their next possession. But the Browns were able to convert it on two plays, thanks to an 18-yard run by Crowell off the left side. An illegal use of hands penalty on Goodman tacked on an additional five yards to put the ball at midfield. Four plays later, West made a nice cut in the backfield to avoid Goodman and broke left for a 20-yard gain to put the ball at the Falcons’ six-yard line. However, pressure forced Hoyer to try and throw the ball away on the ensuing play, but Trufant made an excellent leaping grab in the back of the end zone to get the interception and touchback, stalling the Browns.

Hester made a good grab on an out pattern to gain 12 yards on the second play of the ensuing Falcons series. A lob to Jones on the next play went through the receivers hands. The Browns brought the blitz on the ensuing 3rd-and-5, and Ryan’s lob throw was nearly picked off by cornerback Buster Skrine, but Jones was able to break up the interception to allow the Falcons to punt.

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Matt Bosher and Matt Bryant’s post-field goal celebration proved premature

A false start by Bitonio back up the Browns to 2nd-and-7 following an eight-yard run by Crowell to start the ensuing series. Lowery nearly picked off a tipped pass to tight end Gary Barnidge over the middle. But Southward was able to get the interception on an overthrow by Hoyer to Gordon on a deep pass.

That gave the Falcons the ball back at their 45-yard line with 2:42 left on the game clock. At the two-minute warning, Jackson converted a 3rd-and-1 on a three-yard run to get the ball to the Browns’ 43-yard line. Ryan hit Douglas on a seven-yard catch to force a 3rd-and-2 and Mike Smith made the highly questionable decision to burn a timeout with 55 seconds left in the game, presumably in the hopes to get the perfect play call. Ryan under threw Hester on the ensuing play and the Falcons were forced to settle for a 53-yard field goal from Bryant with 44 seconds left to go in the game. That gave Atlanta a 24-23 lead, but left too much time on the clock for the Browns, who still had all three time outs.

Osi Umenyiora got pressure to start the drive, forcing an incomplete pass by Hoyer. But then Austin made an 11-yard catch near the sideline. Ishmael made the stop, forcing the Browns to burn their first timeout with 32 seconds left. Hoyer then hit Gordon deep over the middle for a 24-yard gain, and the Browns burned their second timeout with 24 seconds left. They now had the ball at the Falcons’ 45-yard line, and Hoyer then hit Barnidge for a 15-yard gain. The Brown spent their final timeout with 16 seconds at the Falcons’ 30-yard line. Austin made another 11-yard grab, and the Browns were able to spike the ball with five seconds left on the clock. Cundiff hit from 37 yards with time expiring to give the Browns the victory.

The Falcons will host the Arizona Cardinals next week, a team and defense that has given the team fits in their last two meetings. The Falcons did beat the Cardinals in the Georgia Dome by a score of 23-19 in 2012, but turned the ball over six times despite holding the Cardinals to 178 total yards. Last season the Cardinals beat the Falcons in Arizona by a score of 27-13 in a game featuring four more Falcons turnovers. The Falcons have won six straight against the Cardinals in Atlanta and sport a 7-1 record all-time record in the Georgia Dome against them. Their lone loss was in the season finale in 1993, with a 27-10 loss. The Cardinals are 3-1 on the road this year, but are 7-0 indoors.

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Aaron Freeman
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