Atlanta Falcons Pull Off Impractical Upset Against Cardinals
With the Saints having won earlier in the day to move ahead in the NFC South, the Atlanta Falcons looked to bounce back from a disappointing week 12 loss and reclaim the divisional lead. The Falcons coaching staff had come under huge scrutiny in the week for their clock management and aggression in recent weeks, and Mike Smith was right on the hot seat. The staff were coaching for their jobs, if those decisions had not been made already, and it was clear the call for aggression was heard throughout Flowery Branch.
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With no Roddy White, Atlanta took the ball to begin and, coming up against a fierce Arizona run defense, began pounding the ball on the ground. The strategy paid immediate dividends, as Steven Jackson reeled off a 55 yard gain, his longest run since 2009. Again trusting the ground game on first and goal, Atlanta fell just shy before an incompletion to Levine Toilolo brought up 3
down. This time, the rookie Devonta Freeman took the handoff, and looked to be in before being ruled just shy. On 4
and goal from the inch line, Mike Smith drew a line in the sand. The offense stayed on the field, and a play action pass to Toilolo gave the underdog Falcons a 7-0 lead. Over to the defense.
The Atlanta Falcons D had been much improved in recent weeks, and began week 13 in similar fashion, forcing a 3 and out and calling out the punt return team. Devin Hester, a threat to score at any time, also had a point to prove after dropping several key passes in recent weeks, and looked to atone for his mistakes with a spark on special teams. As usual, the best return man in NFL history delivered, catching the ball in space before taking it back 71 yards for a touchdown.
Flags flew, and Hester himself was penalised for pushing the punter back by his facemask as he crossed the plane, bringing the run back. An irate Mike Smith also drew a flag for contesting the call, turning a 14-0 lead into a 7-0 score line with a 1st and 25 situation. Matt Ryan found Julio Jones deep to bring up a 1st and goal, but the Falcons momentum came to an abrupt halt when a slant to Jones was intercepted. Atlanta caught a break when the intercepted pass was ruled incomplete, allowing the Falcons to settle for a field goal and take the three points. 10-0. Again the defense came out fired up and, after forcing a quick third down, safety Dwight Lowery located and secured a tipped ball for an interception just 4 plays into the drive. The defense had been forcing takeaways in recent weeks, and the group looked fired up.
Nov 30, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Devin Hester (17) tries to get past Arizona Cardinals punter Drew Butler (2) during the first quarter at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
With a chance to take a commanding early lead, Matt Ryan made no mistake. A deep shot to Julio Jones resulted in the second Atlanta Falcons touchdown of the game, and gave Atlanta a 17-0 lead with 5 minutes left in the first quarter. Someone had lit a fire underneath this Falcons team, and they were responding in an enormous way against quality opposition. With some playing for their jobs and others playing for a contract, the team looked sharp and focused in a way we had not seen since week 1. Again the defense brought pressure and looked stout up front, stopping runs for minimal gains and drawing out yet another punt from Arizona. Matt Ryan brought the hot offense back out, and after using a checkdown to Hester to convert on 3rd and 1, again connected with Julio Jones for a large chunk of yardage. After hyping up the one on one matchup between himself and Jones all week, Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson was on the wrong end of a beating in the early stages of the game, with the Atlanta alcons star WR going for 84 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter. Atlanta had welcomed the team with the best record in the league into the Georgia Dome and had smacked them in the mouth. Now they just needed to keep it up for 3 quarters.
As phenomenal as the first quarter was, the second quarter started extremely poorly. Ryan forced a ball in to tight coverage, and Rashad Johnson picked the ball off and returned it 88 yards for the TD. A potential 24-0 lead had turned into 17-7, and the Atlanta Falcons needed to reset. Faced with a 3rd and 3, the Atlanta Falcons again chose to stick to the ground, pitching the ball outside to Devonta Freeman for a big gain. Atlanta weren’t shying away from the strong run d of Arizona, and looked to establish a presence on the ground. The drive stalled soon after on a 3rd and 2 incompletion, but Matt Bosher boomed the punt inside the 5 to keep the edge with Atlanta. The defense bent for the first time, allowing several big completions to Michael Floyd, but when Floyd failed to secure the ball after a gain across midfield, Desmond Trufant recovered the fumble and the Falcons had the ball again. Atlanta failed to capitalise, and again stalled and punted. Again the Cardinals picked up yardage in chunks, and crossed midfield with ease. As has been the case, the Falcons dug in their heels in the n, holding Arizona to a field goal and giving the ball back to the offense holding a 17-10 lead.
Having stalled in previous drives, Atlanta turned back to what had worked earlier – Julio Jones. Ryan forced fed the receiver as he eclipsed the 100 yard mark with ease in the first half. The Falcons drove into the redzone with 15 seconds left and, in possession of all 3 time outs, looked to go into the break up more than 7. Again Julio Jones brought them to the brink, catching a 15 yard pass to the 5 yard line. A shot to Hester with time ticking down fell incomplete, forcing Atlanta to settle for the 3 points. 20-10 at half time, and the Falcons had held against the surge from the Cardinals, but would rue several mistakes which could have had the lead up even more.
The second half was no disappointment either. The Atlanta Falcons kept pushing with three Matt Bryant field goals, and what a game it was for Harry Douglas. The kid took good care of his chance to fill in for the injured Roddy White and didn’t dissapoint with over 110 yards receiving. The Cardinals scored a worthless touchdown in the last minuets.
All in all, it was an amazing victory for Matt Ryan and Steven Jackson. They call the Cardinals defense “best in the league,” yet that same defense just wasn’t able to stop Steven Jackson all game, and when they moved up to prepare against the veteran, Julio Jones went over the top and showed that he is the best receiver the NFL has to offer.
And the defense….. There is just not enough words to say about how much William Moore brings to this team. He is a momentum shifter and gave the D a new spark that no one has ever seen before.
Watch out folks, although the New Orleans Saints ran away with a victory, the Atlanta Falcons are not done yet!