The Falcons improbable season came to a halt today with a 30-24 loss to the Arizona Cardinals in the first round of the playoffs. The Falcons surprised a lot of observers by finishing the regular season 11-5 but were unable to surprise the Cardinals who defeated them in that team’s first playoff victory since 1998 and only second overall since the 1970 merger. The Falcons made a valiant effort to mount a comeback in the fourth quarter, but were unsuccessful.
Matt Ryan completed 26 of 40 passes for 199 yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Michael Turner had a tough day, rushing for 42 yards and a score on 18 carries, a significant decrease from previous weeks where he rushed for a combined 430 yards in the past three games. Roddy White led Falcon receivers with 11 catches for 84 yards and a touchdown. Michael Jenkins added 5 grabs for 51 yards and Justin Peelle had 3 catches for 11 yards and a score. The Falcons offense got off to a slow start with Ryan throwing an interception on their first offensive possession. The team responded scoring 17 points in the second quarter, but did not get on the board again until midway through the fourth quarter.
Defensively, the Cardinals offense proved too much for the Falcons initially, giving up two big pass plays for touchdowns in the first half for 42 and 71 yards. Erik Coleman led defenders with 8 tackles. John Abraham (2 tackles), Keith Brooking (6 tackles), Chauncey Davis (4 tackles), Chevis Jackson (2 tackles, 1 interception), Curtis Lofton (5 tackles), Lawyer Milloy (5 tackles), and Coy Wire (7 tackles) had noteworthy performances. Down by 6 points with little more than 2 minutes remaining in the game, the Cardinals faced a 3rd & 16 on the Falcons 46-yard line. A stop and a punt could have given Ryan and the offense one more chance for a miracle, but a blown assignment allowed the Cardinals to convert the first down and kneel down for the final three plays to run out the clock since the Falcons had no more remaining timeouts.
On special teams, Jason Elam hit his lone field goal attempt of 30 yards. Michael Koenen had 5 punts, averaging 42.4 yards. Jerious Norwood averaged 27 yards on 2 kickoff returns, while Harry Douglas averaged 10.3 yards on 3 punt returns.
All in all the Falcons end the 2008 season an impressive 11-6 with the chance to retool and tinker in the off-season. Their goal for 2009 will be to have a winning record as the team infamously in its 43-year existence has never posted consecutive seasons with a winning record.