The Atlanta Falcons played well in a 29-18 home victory over the Arizona Cardinals, keeping a firm grip on first place in the NFC South following a win by the New Orleans Saints earlier this afternoon. The Falcons record now moves to 5-7 for the year, and their win over the now 9-3 Cardinals may have been their most impressive of the year. The Falcons got off to an early lead and were able to coast for much of the game with both sides of the ball able to control the Cardinals throughout the game.
Matt Ryan led with 361 yards passing while completing 30 of 41 passes for two touchdowns and an interception. His interception was a pick-six, the only touchdown for the Cardinals all day. On the ground, Steven Jackson produced the Falcons’ first 100-yard rusher since November 4, 2012 as he ended with 101 yards on 18 carries. Devonta Freeman also added 26 yards on eight carries. Julio Jones had a stellar performance, catching 10 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown. Harry Douglas filled in for an injured Roddy White, and had nine catches for 116 yards. That November 4 game against the Dallas Cowboys in 2012 also marked the last time the Falcons had a pair of wide receivers both eclipse 100 yards in the same game. Levine Toilolo had the Falcons other receiving touchdown on the day, and finished with four catches for 15 yards. Matt Bryant set a career-high with five made field goals, connecting from 20, 23, 21, 45 and 28 yards. Matt Bosher punted three times for an average of 53 yards with one placed inside the 20-yard line. Devin Hester had two punt returns for 68 yards, but had a 70-yard touchdown nullified by a penalty. He also returned three kickoffs for an average of 30.3 yards. The Falcons were fairly efficient on the third downs, converting seven of 16 attempts, although managed to convert six of their first 11 third-down tries before struggling in the fourth quarter as they tried to run out the clock. The team also finished with 500 yards of total offense, their second highest mark of the 2014 season. They did however struggle in the red zone, only scoring a touchdown on one of five trips.
Defensively, the Falcons put the clamps on the Cardinals, not allowing an offensive touchdown. The Cardinals were held to 329 total yards and only converted one of seven third-down attempts. Allowing just 35 rushing yards was the best performance of the Falcons run defense for the year. The defense also forced three turnovers: two interceptions and a fumble. Paul Worrilow led the defense with eight tackles. Jonathan Babineaux (one tackle, one quarterback hit); Dwight Lowery (five tackles, two quarterback hits, one interception); Cliff Matthews (two quarterback hits); William Moore (four tackles, one forced fumble); Desmond Trufant (four tackles, one pass deflection, one fumble recovery) and Josh Wilson (three tackles, one interception, three pass deflections) had notable performances.
Things started well for the Falcons with Devin Hester returning the opening kickoff 33 yards to give the Falcons some promising field position on their first possession. On the second play from scrimmage, Steven Jackson gained six yards to set up a more manageable 3rd-and-4 for the Falcons. Jones made his first catch of the game, reeling in a nine-yard pass over the middle to give the Falcons a new set of downs near midfield. On the next play, Jackson broke off the right side and rumbled 55 yards downfield before he could be dragged down from behind by Cardinals cornerback Antonio Cromartie at the one-yard line. Jackson was bottled up for no gain on the next play on a run up the middle. That was followed by Ryan overthrowing Toilolo in the flat on 2nd-and-goal. Freeman then tried his hand on a pitch play, but was down before he could stretch the ball across the plane. But on 4th-and-goal the Falcons opted to go for it, and Ryan hit Toilolo in the back of the end zone for the one-yard score off the play-action pass. That gave Atlanta a 7-0 lead with 11:439 left in the first quarter, with a quick eight-play, 71-yard touchdown drive.
The Cardinals suffered a three-and-out on their first possession with the Falcons bottling up a quick screen to wide receiver Michael Floyd on first down. Pressure by Lowery led to an incomplete pass to Floyd on second down and Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton was once again off target on 3rd-and-10, leading to the punt.
Drew Butler’s punt sailed 50 yards, but he out-kicked his coverage and Hester found a seam and returned it 70 yards. Butler tried to make the tackle at the goal line with both him and Hester grabbing each other’s face masks, but the latter was the one that drew the penalty. Coupled with a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Hester, instead of a touchdown, the Falcons instead were taking over for 1st-and-25 at the Cardinals’ 32-yard line instead.
On 2nd-and-24, Jones made a leaping grab for 25 yards to get the first down and get the ball down to the six-yard line. Two played later, Douglas then made a seven-yard grab over the middle to get the ball down to the two-yard line. On 3rd-and-goal, Ryan’s pass to Jones on the rub route was jumped by Cardinals cornerback Jerraud Powers for an interception. But the play was reviewed by the officials and the ball hit the ground as Powers was hitting the turf, resulting in an incomplete pass. So the Falcons settled for the 20-yard field goal from Bryant instead, to give them a 10-0 lead with eight minutes left in the first quarter.
The Cardinals started to move the ball thanks to a 10-yard catch by Floyd on an out pattern to get a first down on 3rd-and-8. But on the very next play, Lowery intercepted a tipped ball off Cardinals receiver Jaron Brown’s hands and scrambled 21 yards on the return to start the Falcons at the Cardinals’ 32-yard line.
The Falcons dialed up a back-shoulder fade to Jones on the second play from scrimmage, and the receiver made the excellent catch against cornerback Patrick Peterson and fell on the pylon to get the touchdown on a 32-yard pass. The Falcons now had a quick 17-0 lead with less than six minutes to go in the first quarter after a two-play scoring drive.
Desmond Trufant broke up a slant pass to Floyd on the first play of the ensuing Cardinals drive. But a defensive holding call on Corey Peters gave the Cardinals only their second first down of the game on the next play. Two runs for a combined eight yards by Andre Ellington gave the Cardinals a makable 3rd-and-2, but Cliff Matthews tipped the pass to force a Cardinals punt.
After a touchback, the Ryan dialed up Douglas on his first two passes for a combined 20 yards to start and move the ball. Two plays later on 3rd-and-1, Ryan found Hester on a play-action rollout for a gain of 10 yards to get the ball into Cardinals territory. Ryan then hit Jones again on a 16-yard pass to end the first quarter. However things did not go better when on the second play of the second quarter, Ryan’s pass to Jones was jumped by Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson who returned it 88 yards for a touchdown, giving the Cardinals the first (and ultimately last) touchdown of the game. The Falcons lead had been cut to 17-7 with 14 minutes left in the first half.
Devonta Freeman took a pitch 19 yards on the ensuing series to convert a 3rd-and-3 and get the ball near midfield. The Falcons dialed up Freeman two more times on the ground for a combined eight yards to get the ball into Cardinals territory. However the Falcons failed to convert on the 3rd-and-2 play on a rollout to Hester, which was similar to the play called on the previous series that worked. Hester dropped the high throw from Ryan and the Falcons were forced to punt it back to the Cardinals, where long snapper Josh Harris down Bosher’s punt at the Cardinals’ four-yard line.
Stanton found tight end John Carlson on a deep pass for 27 yards as he beat Prince Shembo. Lowery hit Stanton from behind on a blitz on the ensuing play, knocking the ball loose for an incomplete pass. But Floyd got those yards back with a 22-yard grab to give the Cardinals the ball in Falcons territory for the first time all game. However two plays later, Stanton hit Floyd on a crossing pattern but Falcons safety William Moore stripped him 13 yards downfield and the ball bounced into the waiting arms of Trufant, who returned it 15 yards.
The Falcons took over at their 40-yard line but were unsuccessful in moving the ball much. Jackson was flagged for a holding penalty on first down, which was followed by a two-yard loss on his part. Ryan was sacked by Lorenzo Alexander on 2nd-and-22, backing them up further. Douglas made a nice leaping grab over the middle for 19 yards but it was not enough to prevent the Falcons punt.
Stanton dialed up Ginn on a deep play for 19 yards to kick the next Cardinals drive off. Ra’Shede Hageman penetrated on the next play to help team for the stop on running back Marion Grice for a one-yard gain. But Stanton then hit Grice on a screen for 15 yards, which was followed by another play by Ginn downfield for 22 yards. The Cardinals now had the ball once more deep in Falcons territory, but a holding call on guard Ted Larsen backed then up. McClain dropped an easy interception two plays later on 2nd-and-13. Both Matthews and Jonathan Babineaux were able to get pressure on third down, forcing an errant throw by Stanton. The Cardinals wound up settling for a 44-yard field goal from kicker Chandler Catanzaro to cut Atlanta’s lead to 17-10 with 2:42 left in the second quarter.
Hester got a 32-yard return on the ensuing kickoff to start things well for the Falcons. Jacquizz Rodgers was able to catch a pair of passes for a combined 13 yards as the two-minute warning hit to give the Falcons a fresh set of downs near midfield. Two plays later, Ryan missed on an out pattern to Dougllas but that missed pass was sandwiched between a pair of completions to Jones, the latter of which being a nine-yard play that got the ball into Cardinals territory. Ryan was however tripped for a sack by Alex Okafor, who beat Ryan Schraeder for the sack. But an illegal contact penalty on Jerraud Powers wiped out that play and the Falcons had a 1st-and-10 from Arizona’s 32-yard line with 32 seconds left. On the ensuing 3rd-and-6 play, Jones broke Peterson’s tackle and ran 17 yards to put the Falcons in the red zone with 11 seconds left on the clock. Douglas drew an offensive pass interference call on the next play, backing up the Falcons 10 yards. But Jones then gained 16 of it back, using his body to shield Peterson on an out pattern. However on 2nd-and-4 from the five-yard line, Ryan’s pass to Hester was dropped in the end zone and the Falcons were forced to settle for another field goal. Bryant hit from 23 yards out as the clock expired to push Atlanta’s lead to 20-10 at halftime.
The Cardinals were able to move the ball on the opening possession of the second half, thanks in part to a pair of illegal contact penalties on McClain on the first four plays of the drive. However two plays later, Floyd drew an offensive pass interference penalty which backed them up to 2nd-and-18. The Cardinals were unable to dig themselves out of the hole thanks to Matthews hitting Stanton on 3rd-and-5 to force the incompletion. The replay indicated that Matthews may have jarred the ball loose before Stanton’s arm went forward, resulting in a fumble but Falcons head coach Mike Smith opted not to challenge it. Butler’s punt went 48 yards and the Falcons started their ensuing drive at the 12 instead of potentially near midfield.
But the Falcons were able to quickly make up for it, with a 19-yard pass from Ryan to Douglas which was followed up by a 41-yard deep ball to Jones where he burned Peterson. That set the Falcons up at the Cardinals’ 22-yard line. Steven Jackson converted on 2nd-and-2 with a six-yard run up the middle. But his next two runs were bottled up for a total of five yards, and Douglas couldn’t reel in the catch on 3rd-and-goal from the three-yard line, leading to another failed red-zone conversion for the Falcons. Bryant connected on the 21-yard field goal and the Falcons continued to push their lead to 23-10 with six minutes left in the third quarter.
Stanton dialed up Ginn on first down for a 14-yard gain, but three plays later Babineaux was there to bottle up a screen to Grice for no gain. On the ensuing third down, pressure by Babineaux forced Stanton’s pass to Ginn to be incomplete and the Cardinals were forced to punt once more.
Douglas kicked things off with a sliding grab for 18 yards. Jackson converted on 2nd-and-6 with a hard-fought seven-yard gain two plays later. Ryan scrambled for six yards to close out the third quarter. Douglas again made a nice gain of 15 yards on a slant to start off the fourth quarter. A seven-yard throw on a quick out to Douglas came two plays later, but then Jackson were bottled up on the ensuing 3rd-and-1. Bryant nailed his 45-yard field-goal attempt and the Falcons’ lead was pushed to 26-10 with 12:35 left in the game.
Stanton missed on a deep pass to Ginn to start the next drive, thanks to some pressure from Corey Peters. Wilson broke up Stanton’s third-down pass to John Brown, leading to a three-and-out and another Cardinals punt.
The Falcons began to try and milk clock on their next possession with a pair of runs by Jacquizz Rodgers for a combined nine yards. But on 3rd-and-1, Jackson was once again stuffed for no gain. The Falcons then drew a false start penalty on their fourth-down punt, but the officials missed the offsides by a Cardinals defender that prompted the movement from the Falcons. So the Falcons punted again, with Bosher booming a 62-yarder and Ginn being bottled up on a 14-yard gain.
The Cardinals were able to move the ball downfield with a pair of catches by Jaron Brown for a combined 22 yards getting the ball into Falcons territory. Two plays later, Wilson jumped Stanton’s throw to John Brown, but was unable to reel in the interception. But he made up for it on the very next play with Stanton’s pass to Floyd being thrown well behind the receiver and straight to Wilson for an easy interception. Wilson returned it 15 yards to start the Falcons at their 47-yard line with 7:17 left in the fourth quarter.
Ryan dialed up Douglas once more for an 11-yard gain on a rollout to start the next drive. The team tried to dial up Douglas two plays later on a screen, but pressure from Cardinals defensive tackle Tommy Kelly forced Ryan to throw it away into the turf. On the next play, a 3rd-and-12, Ryan then hit Jones on a comeback for 16 yards. Jackson took a pair of carries fro nineyards to set up a 3rd-and-1. Ryan looked for fullback Patrick DiMarco on a wheel route, but the pass was under thrown and deflected off the helmet of Cardinals linebacker Sam Acho. Bryant came out once more and connected on a 38-yard field goal, but Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel was flagged for an offsides penalty, which gave the Falcons a new set of downs at the Cardinals’ 15-yard line with 3:33 left on the clock. The Falcons proceeded to run the ball three straight plays, burning two of Arizona’s timeouts before Bryant came out and hit a field goal from 28 yards. The Falcons now had a 29-10 lead with 2:30 left in the game.
Jaron Brown got a 23-yard gain on the second play of the Cardinals’ ensuing series as the two-minute warning hit. That was followed up by an 11-yard play from Carlson. John Brown got into the act with a 27-yard play to get the ball into the red zone, after which the Cardinals burned their final timeout. Jaron Brown caught Stanton’s next two passes for a combined 16 yards to set up the Cardinals at the Falcons’ three-yard line. Cardinals running back Stepfan Taylor scored on the next play with a three-yard catch from Stanton. The Cardinals went for the two-point conversion, but Stanton’s pass to Jaron Brown sailed over the receiver’s head. But McClain was flagged for pass interference giving the Cardinals another shot. This time, Taylor rushed to the left and scored from one yard out to cut Atlanta’s lead to 29-18 with a minute remaining.
The Cardinals attempted the onside kick, but Douglas made the grab on the bounce. The Falcons knelt on the ball twice and the game was over.
Next week the Falcons go back on the road following this two-game home stand to face the 9-3 Green Bay Packers, another one of the NFC’s top teams. The Falcons last win in Lambeau Field came in 2008 with a 27-24 win over Aaron Rodgers in his first season as a starter. Since then, the Packers are 37-7-1 at home, including a 10-1 record in the month of December.
The Falcons have also lost three straight to the Packers, with their most recent one coming on the road last season to backup quarterback Matt Flynn by a score of 22-21.