The Falcons won scrappily over the Dallas Cowboys by a score of 19-13 on Sunday Night Football to push their 2012 record to 8-0. The offense got off to a sluggish start, but the Falcons were able to take the lead at the start of the fourth quarter and show their resiliency.
Matt Ryan was sharp, completing 24 of 34 passes for 342 yards. He was held without a touchdown, snapping a 22-game streak in which he threw at least one touchdown pass. Michael Turner led rushers with 102 yards on the ground on 20 carries and the team’s lone touchdown. Roddy White led receivers with 7 catches for 118 yards. Julio Jones also had a big game with 129 yards and 5 catches. Jacquizz Rodgers (4 catches, 53 yards) and Tony Gonzalez (4 catches, 36 yards) also contributed in the passing game. Matt Bryant was unusually erratic with his accuracy on the evening, missing two of five attempts. But he managed to connect on field goals of 45, 46, 36, and finally a 32-yarder that sealed the win near the end of regulation. Matt Bosher had a pair of punts for an average of 40 yards, including one inside the 20-yard line. Jacquizz Rodgers returned a pair of kickoffs for an average of 22.5 yards, while Dominique Franks had a pair of punt returns for a combined 6 yards. Offensively, the Falcons were sharp on third downs, converting on 7 of their 14 tries with some critical ones down the stretch. The running game really took off in the second half, with 100 of the 123 total rushing yards gained in that half.
Defensively, the Falcons did a good job getting off the field on third downs and keeping the Cowboys out of the endzone on their redzone trips. They forced the Cowboys to settle for field goals on their two redzone trips in the first quarter. And Dallas only converted 3 of 10 third downs the entire game. The run defense was improved, giving up only 65 yards on 18 carries for the game. Jonathan Babineaux and Akeem Dent shared the team lead in tackles with 7 each. Babineaux also added a sack and a pass deflection. Dent too had a pass deflection. Thomas DeCoud (3 tackles); Robert McClain (6 tackles); William Moore (4 tackles); Stephen Nicholas (4 tackles); Dunta Robinson (4 tackles); and Asante Samuel (3 tackles) all had notable games.
The game did not get off to a good start for the Falcons, as Lousaka Polite dropped a pass on the opening play from scrimmage. Then on their initial third down, a Ryan pass to Harry Douglas fell incomplete after there was some contact by Cowboys defender Danny McCray, but no flag was thrown. And thus the Falcons were forced to punt. Dwayne Harris had a 37-yard return to set up the Cowboys in favorable field position, beginning that drive at the Falcons’ 32-yard line. Two plays later, the Cowboys were inside the redzone. But on a 3rd & goal scramble from the 5-yard line, Romo’s lob to Cole Beasley was overthrown in the back of the endzone and the Cowboys settled for three to take the early lead. Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey hit from 23 yards out. On the fourth play of the ensuing Falcons drive, Ryan hit Julio Jones deep on a 38-yard strike to put the ball in Cowboy territory. Two plays later, the Falcons found themselves in the redzone, but a run by Rodgers up the middle was stuffed for a 1-yard loss on 3rd & 2, and the Falcons settled for a field goal. But Matt Bryant’s 37-yard attempt went wide right and the Falcons were still scoreless with 6:15 left on the first quarter clock. On the fourth play of the Cowboys next drive, Dunta Robinson was beat by Kevin Ogletree on a double move for a 65-yard gain, flipping the entire field. The Cowboys went from their own 17 to the Falcons 18 on that lone play. But three plays later, Jonathan Babineaux batted down Romo’s pass on third down to force another field goal by Bailey, this time from 32 yards. On the next drive, Ryan hit White over the middle on a 3rd & 7 for an 18-yard gain just before the first quarter came to an end. On the first play to start the second quarter, on another 3rd & 7, Jason Snelling was tripped up shy of the first down marker on a Ryan pass to force Bryant’s second field goal attempt. This time he hit from 45 yards out to put the Falcons on the board, now down 6 to 3. It seemed like the Falcons got a break on the next drive, as the Cowboys were driving, Romo’s pass to Jason Witten was picked off by Thomas DeCoud at the Falcons own 25-yard line to end a drive. But the play was negated by a defensive holding call on Robinson, the second penalty of that drive, keeping the ball in Cowboy hands. On the next play, Asante Samuel dropped an interception on a deep post in the endzone. Then on third down, Ogletree dropped an open pass and Bailey missed from 54 yards, as the defense was able to hold. The Falcons regained possession at their own 44-yard line with 9:34 left in the half. On the second play of the drive however, Ryan was hit hard by DeMarcus Ware from the blindside, causing him to fumble. But luckily White jumped on the ball. Later pressure on third down would force Ryan to throw the ball away and Bosher would come out for his second punt of the game. His 33-yarder was nearly blocked, but downed by Antone Smith at the Cowboys’ 3-yard line. The Falcons defense missed a couple of tackles which led to a pair of Cowboys first downs on the next drive. Another missed tackle on a 2nd & 9 play to Cole Beasley set up 3rd & inches at midfield. But Mike Peterson and Kroy Biermann filled the run lane and stuffed the Cowboys for no gain, and they were forced to punt giving Atlanta one more chance with 1:03 left on the clock. On the third play of the drive, Ryan found an open White in the soft spot over the middle for a 20-yard gain. On the next play, with 29 seconds left, Ryan scrambled up the middle for 8 yards, just shy of a first down. Ryan then hit Tony Gonzalez on two straight passes for a combined 27 yards, setting up the Falcons at Dallas’ 28-yard line with 3 seconds left. Bryant hit from 46 yards, splitting the uprights as the first half came to a close. The Falcons had just tied the game 6-6.
The Cowboys established their ground game to start the second half, with their runners rushing for a combined 39 yards on the first three plays of the half. But pressure up the middle a few plays later on 3rd down, resulted in Babineaux sacking Romo to force another Cowboy punt. Ryan hit Jones early on the ensuing drive for an 18-yard gain. Then a few plays later on third down, he rolls left outside the pocket and throws across his body to find an open White for a 26-yard gain to convert on 3rd & 12. The next play, Ryan hits White again for 20 yards on a play-action pass. With that catch, White surpassed Terance Mathis as the Falcons all-time leading receiver with 574 carer receptions. But Ryan would get sacked by Josh Brent-Price and Ware on the next play, and hit again on the ensuing play forcing another incompletion. Ryan’s quick throw to Snelling over the middle was stopped short of the marker, and Bryant came out again for another field goal try. This time from 43 yards, and he again missed as the ball went wide right. The next Cowboys drive stalled due to Miles Austin dropping an open pass on 3rd & long to force a punt. The Falcons got the ball back with 2:39 left in the third quarter at their own 19-yard line. On the first play, Ryan finds White again for a big 16-yard gain over the middle. Turner burst up the middle on the next play for 8 yards. Then he ran wide right on the following play, breaking a few tackles and getting a big 43-yard gain to put the ball at the Cowboy 14-yard line. With the fourth quarter beginning, Ryan found White for an 8-yard gain to convert a 2nd & 7 and put the ball at the Cowboys 3-yard line. Turner then ran right behind the block of Peter Konz, as well as breaking a tackle by Gerald Sensabaugh, falling into the endzone for the first Falcon touchdown of the game. It also gave them their first lead, now with over 14 minutes left in the game. The defense forced a three-and-out on the next Cowboys drive, thanks a stop in the backfield by Stephen Nicholas and Vance Walker to force a long third down try. On the second play of the next Falcons series, Jones made a defender miss after catching the Ryan pass and nearly outruns the Cowboy defense for a 48-yard gain. That put the ball firmly in Cowboys territory. Then three plays later in 3rd & 1, Jones made Ware miss in the open field on a 8-yard gain on the toss. Ryan was sacked by Victor Butler on the following play however, making it 2nd & 19 from the Cowboys 27-yard line. Turner would get those 9 yards back on the next play with a nice run. Ryan looked for White on a double move in the endzone, but the ball was tipped by Brandon Carr to go incomplete on the 3rd & 10 try. Bryant would redeem himself by making a 36-yarder to push the Falcons lead to 10 points with less than 8 minutes to go in the game. Cowboys return man Lance Dunbar had a good 41-yard return negated by an illegal block penalty on the ensuing kickoff, killing the Cowboys field position. But the Cowboys no huddle proved effective, as they were able to mount a quick 6-play, 78-yard drive that only ate up two and a half minutes of game time to put 7 on the board. The drive was capped off by Romo scrambling out of the pocket and finding Ogletree open in the back of the endzone on a 21-yard strike. The Falcons lead was now only three points, 16-13 with 5:21 left to go in the game. Ryan looked for Jones on a deep shot on the first play of the next drive, but Jones was called for a questionable offensive pass interference call. Turner then ran for 10 yards up the middle on the next play. Then two plays later on third down, Jacquizz Rodgers broke a tackle and got a big 31-yard catch to put the ball into Cowboy territory with 3:45 left on the clock. Three plays later, Ryan’s third down pass to White is overthrown, but Orlando Scandrick was flagged for defensive holding giving the Falcons a first down at Dallas’ 38-yard line with 3:29 left in the game. Then three plays later, Quizz made another critical third down conversion on another catch from Ryan, this time for 11 yards. That spotted the ball at the Cowboy 22-yard line with 2:18 left on the clock and the Cowboys without any timeouts. The Falcons ran three times to Turner for a total of 8 yards, bleeding time off the clock for a fifth and final Bryant field goal try. With only 22 seconds left on the clock, Bryant set up from 32 yards and nailed it to push the Falcons lead to 19-13. Bosher’s ensuing kickoff went out of the back of the endzone for a touchback, forcing the Cowboys to try and go 80 yards for the win with only 17 seconds on the clock. Romo found Jason Witten on two straight sideline passes, but only gained 18 yards. Another sideline pass to Felix Jones only went 2 yards and the Cowboys now only had 3 seconds for a final play, and 60 yards to go for a score. Romo was able to scramble around, but the Falcons prevent defense took away the hail mary and he settled for an underneath throw to Jones. While Jones was able to get 39 yards on the play, he was stopped by Dunta Robinson at the Falcons’ 21-yard line to end the game.
Next week the Falcons will travel to New Orleans to take on their divisional rival, the Saints. The Saints (2-5) will take on the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football this week before hosting the Falcons. The Falcons have struggled to beat the Saints under Mike Smith, sporting a 2-6 record against them since Smith took over the team in 2008. The Saints have won the last three, the latest being a 45-16 beating on Monday Night Football in Week 16 of last season. Prior to that, the six previous Falcons-Saints matchups were settled by a single score. The Saints are 5-1 at home against the Falcons in games started by Drew Brees, the lone loss being an overtime game against the Falcons in 2010.