The Atlanta Falcons scored 25 unanswered points over the final three quarters in a comeback win over the Dallas Cowboys by a final score of 39-28. The Falcons were down 28-14 with less than a minute left in the first half before the team stepped it up to shut out the Cowboys the remainder of the game.
Matt Ryan led the team, completing 24 of 36 passes for 285 yards with a pair of touchdowns. Ryan was especially impressive in the second half of the game, where he completed 13 of 17 passes for 153 yards and both scores.
On the ground, Devonta Freeman was dominant with 141 yards on 30 carries (4.7 avg), adding three more scores.
Julio Jones caught both of Ryan’s touchdown passes, finishing the day with 12 catches for 164 yards. Jones was especially dominant in the second half, accounting for 137 of Ryan’s 153 second-half yardage. Freeman added five catches for 52 yards, while Leonard Hankerson had three catches for 45 yards. Veteran receiver Roddy White was held catchless for the second week in a row, thanks to a penalty wiping out his lone 17-yard catch.
Matt Bryant hit on his lone 32-yard field goal while Matt Bosher punted four times, averaging 51.3 yards and had one punt placed inside the 20-yard line. Eric Weems returned one kickoff for 23 yards and had fair catches on all four of his punt returns.
The Falcons converted nine of 14 third-down tries (64 percent) and finished with 438 total yards, including a season-high 158 yards on the ground. That marked the team’s best rushing day since the 167-yard effort in their 2012 playoff win over the Seattle Seahawks. The Falcons were also able to successfully convert four of their five red-zone trips into touchdowns.
Defensively, the Falcons gave up 295 total yards in the first half, but clamped down in the second half, only allowing 52 yards. They were stingy on third downs, as the Cowboys converted just one of their six third-down attempts.
Justin Durant led the Falcons with nine tackles. Ricardo Allen (seven tackles), Vic Beasley (two tackles, one sack), Adrian Clayborn (two tackles, one sack), William Moore (four tackles, one interception), O’Brien Schofield (two tackles, one tackle for loss), Desmond Trufant (three tackles) and Paul Worrilow (five tackles) all had notable games.
The Cowboys started strong on their opening series with running back Joseph Randle bursting up the middle for a 28-yard gain, making Ricardo Allen miss in the open field. Robert Alford was flagged for a facemask penalty on the very next play, gifting the Cowboys another 15 yards and putting them into Falcon territory. Randle then made both Durant and Worrilow miss on the edge before turning the corner for a 37-yard touchdown and the Cowboys had a quick 7-0 lead after a two-play, 80-yard drive in just 68 seconds.
The Falcons failed to respond on their opening series with a three-and-out. A pair of run plays to Freeman went for just two combined yards on the first two plays, before pressure up the middle dropped Ryan on third down. Running back Terron Ward whiffed on a blitz pickup and Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee got home for the sack. Bosher punted and the Cowboys took over with 11:44 left in the first quarter.
Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden completed his first pass of the game on a rollout to tight end Jason Witten for a 19-yard gain. Then Randle got back to work with a 20-yard gain on a run to the right side on the next play. Two plays later, Weeden hit Randle on a checkdown for a nine-yard gain to convert a 2nd-and-9. Jonathan Babineaux and Schofield teamed to stuff Randle for a one-yard loss on the next play. But Weeden connected to Cole Beasley on a pair of receptions on the next two plays, including a 20-yard play on a crossing pattern that got the ball down to the Falcons’ one-yard line. Randle then finished off the drive with another one-yard run up the middle, giving the Cowboys a 14-0 lead with seven minutes to go in the opening quarter.
The Falcons offense finally got their act together on the next drive with Ryan connected on his first two passes to Jones and Hankerson for five and 21 yards, respectively. Ryan was low on his next throw to Jones off play action. Freeman did better on his next carry, taking a toss play 16 yards to get the ball into Cowboys territory. Ryan then had another low throw to Jones on a comeback route before hitting the receiver for a 12-yard gain along the sideline. Freeman again was able to pick his way through the middle of the Cowboys defense for a 10-yard gain to put the Falcons in the red zone. Ryan tried to hit Hankerson on a slant pattern on the next play, but the ball was tipped up in the air and nearly intercepted. The Falcons then dialed up Jones once more to convert on a 10-yard grab, putting the ball at the six-yard line. Ryan’s next pass to Jones was nearly jumped by cornerback Morris Claiborne for an interception, but the ball fell incomplete. Ryan then tried to attempt a crossing pattern to White, but he couldn’t make the grab in traffic. But the play was nullified by a holding penalty on Claiborne in the end zone against Jones, giving the Falcons a first down at the three-yard line. Patrick DiMarco nailed his block on the outside and Freeman scampered untouched into the endzone for a score to cut Dallas’ lead to 14-7 with three minutes left in the first quarter.
Randle continued to work over the Falcons, catching a checkdown for nine yards and then converting on a four-yard run. Tyson Jackson put the clamps on him on the third play from scrimmage, stuffing him for a one-yard gain. Fellow running back Lance Dunbar was then tripped up by Allen for an eight-yard gain to set up a 3rd-and-1 on the final play of the first quarter. Durant then helped stuff Randle for no gain, forcing the Cowboys to punt to start the second quarter.
On the second play from scrimmage, Ryan hit White on a 17-yard rollout, but a penalty on right tackle Ryan Schraeder wiped out the play, pushing the Falcons back to 2nd-and-8. After hitting Freeman on a six-yard cross to set up a more manageable third down, Ryan missed an open Freeman over the middle. He instead went for Jones and overthrew the receiver to force another quick punt by the Falcons offense. Bosher booted it 43 yards, but after an eight-yard return by Cole Beasley, the Cowboys had favorable field position at their 44-yard line.
Running back Darren McFadden got the ball into Falcons territory immediately with a 10-yard gain to start the next Cowboys series. But he was stuffed by Ra’Shede Hageman on the next play despite the fact that left tackle Tyron Smith was flagged for a holding penalty. But the Cowboys were able to make it back thanks to Dunbar running past Worrilow on a crossing pattern two plays later to get 14 yards and a new a set of downs. McFadden would carry the ball four of the next five plays, gaining five, seven and 10 yards, respectively, before finishing the drive with a two-yard touchdown run to stretch the Cowboys’ lead to 21-7 with 7:25 left in the first half.
Cowboys defensive tackle Nick Hayden then busted up a run to Freeman on first down resulting in a loss of two yards. Ryan hit Jacob Tamme on an eight-yard completion to then set up a manageable third down. But Ryan’s throw to Hankerson went through the receiver’s hands and the Falcons were forced to punt once again after another three-and-out.
The Falcons defense finally got a stop against the Cowboys, thanks to Weeden trying to hit Witten while outside the pocket on the first play of the ensuing drive. The ball sailed over the Cowboys tight end’s head and into the waiting arms of Moore for an interception, setting up the Falcons at the Cowboys’ 23-yard line.
Freeman gained five yards on a first-down toss followed by a four-yard gain on a second-down catch to set up a 3rd-and-1 at the Cowboys’ 14-yard line. The Falcons put Jones in the backfield with Freeman at fullback, but handed it off to the latter for a seven-yard gain to convert. Two plays later, Ryan tried to hit tight end Levine Toilolo in the back of the end zone, but the ball was overthrown. Thankfully, Cowboys safety Barry Church was flagged for a holding penalty, giving the Falcons a first-and-goal at the three-yard line. After a one-yard run by Freeman, a low shotgun snap threw off Ryan’s timing on a quick slant to Jones, which was broken up by Cowboys safety J.J. Wilcox. But on the next down, Freeman took the handoff and ran up the middle for a two-yard score. The Falcons had now cut the Cowboys’ lead to 21-14 with little more than two minutes to go in the half.
The Cowboys tried a screen to Beasley on first down, gaining 15 yards and also got another 15 tacked on thanks to an unnecessary roughness penalty on Allen when he shoved the receiver after he was out of bounds. After the two-minute warning hit, the Cowboys were able to move the ball into Falcons territory thanks to a five-yard run by Dunbar. Two plays later, Dunbar got a big gain on a 15-yard checkdown, utilizing his speed after the catch. Dunbar then broke multiple tackles on another checkdown, gaining 22 yards and getting the ball down to the Falcons’ one-yard line. Randle finished off the drive by leaping over the pile for the score. That score on a six-play, 80-yard drive in 98 seconds gave the Cowboys a 28-14 lead with 40 seconds left in the half.
The Falcons responded with a seven-yard check down to Freeman to start their drive, followed by their first timeout. Hankerson made a big catch over the middle for a 15-yard gain and the Falcons called their second timeout with 28 seconds left, now with the ball near midfield. Freeman then sped through the middle of the Cowboys defense on a post pattern for 35 yards and the Falcons burned their final timeout with 17 seconds left at the Cowboys’ 23-yard line. Hankerson made the grab for nine yards, going out of bounds to stop the clock with 11 seconds left. But Ryan couldn’t find an open receiver on the next play and threw it away to stop the clock with five seconds left. Bryant came out onto the field and hit a 32-yard field goal to end the first half with the Falcons now down 28-17.
The Falcons received the opening kick of the second half and Ryan couldn’t complete his first pass to Jones as the pass was too low. But Freeman gained seven yards on an off-tackle run to set up a 3rd-and-3. Ryan connected with Jones, as the receiver extended and toe-tapped the sideline for a 14-yard gain to move the chains. The Cowboys defended Freeman’s next run well, as Brandon Carr was able to trip up the Falcons running back for a five-yard loss. Then a 17-yard catch by Freeman was negated by a holding call on left tackle Jake Matthews, backing up the Falcons to a 2nd-and-25 from their 16-yard line. Both of Ryan’s attempted passes to Jones on the next two downs were batted down by Hayden, forcing the Falcons to punt the ball. Bosher booted a 43-yard punt, which was returned 12 yards by Beasley to set up the Cowboys at the Falcons’ 47-yard line to start their next drive.
A false start on Witten backed up the Cowboys to start the series. That was followed by O’Brien Schofield busting up a run to Randle for a loss of one yard. Weeden was forced to throw his next pass away due to pressure, and right tackle Doug Free was flagged for a holding call, backing up the Cowboys to 2nd-and-26. On 3rd-and-23, Dunbar was able to beat Durant on a checkdown over the middle, but Trufant was there to wrap him up after a 17-yard gain to prevent the conversion and the Cowboys punted.
A toss to Freeman went for nine yards to start the ensuing Falcons series. Two plays later, Ryan hit Jones on a throwback pass for 22 yards to put the ball near midfield. Freeman added a seven-yard gain up the middle, followed by no gain on a sweep right. But on 3rd-and-3, Ryan was able to dial up Jones on a post pattern, who sped past a pair of Cowboys defenders for a 45-yard touchdown. The Falcons had now cut the Cowboys’ lead to 28-25 with seven minutes to go in the third quarter.
That score energized the Falcons defense as Paul Soliai burst up the middle to wrap up Randle for a four-yard loss to start the next series. The Falcons were able to get a third-down stop on the Cowboys, but a roughing the passer penalty on Adrian Clayborn gave the Cowboys a new set of downs. But three plays later, linebacker Nate Stupar made another stop on Randle in the backfield for a two-yard loss. Two plays later, Allen and Durant swarmed Dunbar on the underneath throw to get the stop on 3rd-and-12 after a six-yard gain, forcing a Cowboys punt.
Freeman ran for 16 yards on his first touch of the next Falcons series, followed by a 15-yard catch by Jones on a rollout from Ryan. Freeman’s next two runs just went for a combined four yards, setting up a 3rd-and-6 on the final play of the third quarter. Ryan couldn’t find an open receiver and opted to run it on a scramble of 18 yards, making one Cowboys defender miss in the open field. That put the ball at the Cowboys’ 36-yard line to start the fourth quarter. Ryan hit Jones on two of his next three passes for a combined 20 yards to put the ball deep in the red zone. Then on third down, Ryan hit Nick Williams for six yards on a whip route to put the ball at the Cowboys’ seven-yard line. Freeman then finished the drive on a run up the middle for a seven-yard score, giving the Falcons their first lead with the score 32-28 with 11:25 left in the game.
The Cowboys offense responded with a three-and-out thanks to Falcons rookie defensive end Vic Beasley getting pressure on a speed rush to sack Weeden on third down.
The Falcons looked to milk some time off the clock by feeding Freeman, who gained 21 yards on a pair of tosses to start the drive, putting the ball in Cowboys territory. Hankerson dropped a pass, but Jones was able to reel one in on a nine-yard slant to set up a 3rd-and-1. Freeman converted by juking a pair of Cowboys defenders in the hole for a five-yard gain. Ryan completed his next two passes to Toilolo and Jones for six and 10 yards, respectively, putting the ball down at the 10-yard line. Freeman then carried twice for a combined eight yards, setting up a 3rd-and-goal from the two. Ryan then pulled the ball out of Freeman’s belly on a zone-read rollout and found an open Jones crossing the field in the end zone for another score. The Falcons pushed their lead to 39-28 with three minutes to go in the game.
Weeden was able to hit Witten over the middle for nine yards to start the drive. Dunbar made a pair of catches just as the two-minute warning hit with the Cowboys approaching midfield. Dunbar then had another catch for six yards, with Worrilow making the stop to force a 3rd-and-1. Weeden escaped the pocket but slid down, taking a sack from Clayborn. The Cowboys burned their second timeout to stop the clock to set up a 4th-and-4. Weeden’s pass to Terrance Williams on a quick slant was dropped and the Falcons took over on downs with 1:29 left on the game clock.
Two runs by Freeman forced the Cowboys to burn their last timeout and the Falcons went into victory formation for the final play to seal the win.
The Falcons will return home to face the Houston Texans (1-2) next week. The last time the two teams squared off came in a 2011 loss by a score of 17-10. The Falcons are 1-2 all-time against the Texans, their lone win being their lone home game against the team back in 2007. The Texans are 4-5 on the road under head coach Bill O’Brien the past two seasons.