Atlanta Falcons soar past Arizona Cardinals; Maintain NFC South lead


Don’t look now, but the Atlanta Falcons (5-7) are still in first place, after beating the “best” team in the NFC, the Arizona Cardinals (9-3). Julio Jones and Matt Ryan went to work on Patrick Peterson and never let up. The Pro Bowl wide receiver had over 100 yard in the first half and abused the former LSU Tigers cornerback all game. Jones ended the game with 10 catches for 189 yards and a score, while Matt Ryan exploded for 361 yards and two touchdowns against just one interception, and that was enough to key a 29-18 victory.

The Falcons dominated the first quarter and never (well, maybe a little) looked back. On the opening drive, Steven Jackson looked like the Steven Jackson of old, as he rumbled for 55 yards to put the Falcons inside the 2-yard line. Atlanta had trouble getting the ball into the end zone, but a gutsy (and correct) call by Mike Smith allowed for Matt Ryan to connect with Levine Toilolo on fourth down to give the Falcons an early 7-0 lead.

The Cardinals went three and out on the following drive and then craziness ensued. Drew Butler punted to Devin Hester who proceeded to run 70 yards for the apparent TD, but there was a flag at the goal-line. The call was offensive facemask on Devin Hester. Replay clearly showed that Hester had his hand in the vicinity of the face mask (which is allowed with an open hand), but it also showed Drew Butler with his entire hand inside the face mask of Devin Hester!

To make things worse, Mike Smith went ballistic and cost his team 15 yards and 4 points, in the long run, as the Falcons had to settle for the FG to go up 10-0. After an interception by Josh Wilson, Matt Ryan was able to connect with Julio Jones on 32-yd TD pass to make the lead 17 before the 2nd quarter even started.

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The Falcons would have preferred to just stay in the first quarter, as the turn of the clock brought a momentum-killing, long pick 6 from Matt Ryan. It may have been his worst pass of the year as he stared down Julio Jones, which allowed Arizona’s Rashad Johnson to jump the route and return it 88 yards for the TD. It looked as if things might get interesting when Arizona kicked a 44-yard field goal to get the lead to seven just before the half.

However, that would be as close as the Cardinals would get as Matt Ryan lead a 2-minute drill to put Matt ‘Money” Bryant in FG range and he didn’t miss.  The Falcons led 20-10 at half and proceeded to put away the Cardinals in the 2nd half which is something they have struggled with all year.

The much maligned defense stood tall today, albeit against Drew Stanton, and forced three Arizona turnovers. That led to a +2 turnover margin, which seems to be the key for the Falcons getting in the win column. Atlanta also dominated on the ground, rushing for 142 yards on a season-high 34 attempts.  Steven Jackson rumbled for 101 yards on 18 carries, accounting for his first 100-yard game since Week 12 of the 2012 season, when he faced off against, you guessed it, the Arizona Cardinals.

The first place Atlanta Falcons now have over a week to get ready for the red-hot Green Bay Packers on Monday night. The Frozen Tundra of Lambeau field will await the Matt Ryan and the Falcons, and it will take Atlanta’s best game to be competitive. Aaron Rodgers is coming off a monster game against New England will be ready for the Falcons. Check back later in the week for complete coverage of the prime-time match-up.