By Shawn Lealos
The Atlanta Falcons have seen the Tampa Bay Buccaneers rising quickly in the NFC South rankings, but held on to their slim division lead thanks to a big 38-19 blowout win over the Arizona Cardinals. The win gives the Falcons a 4-1 division record and a 5-3 conference record as they try to make the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Here is a look at the Atlanta Falcons team grades for this big win over the Arizona Cardinals.
After only scoring 15 points against the Philadelphia Eagles the week before their bye, the Atlanta Falcons offense was back on track this week. Matt Ryan was not at his best, but played well enough to win, throwing for 269 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw an interception in the game and was sacked three times. It was also an off day for star receiver Julio Jones, who finished with four receptions for only 35 yards.
However, a surprising name stepped up for Atlanta — Taylor Gabriel, a wide receiver who joined Atlanta after the winless Cleveland Browns waived him before the season started, had the best game of his NFL career, with four receptions for 75 yards and two touchdowns in the game. It was the third-year receiver’s first multi-touchdown game of his career. Mohamed Sanu led the team with eight receptions and Devonta Freeman finished with 60 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries.
The Atlanta Falcons defense struggled at the start, but really tightened things up for the rest of the game. Arizona took a 10-7 lead after a Jermaine Gresham touchdown and a field goal that was only necessary because of a botched snap. By the end of the game, Carson Palmer threw for 289 yards and two touchdowns, while throwing an interception to De’Vondre Campbell.
The Falcons did shut down one of the top running backs in the NFL this season, only allowing David Johnson to run for 58 yards in the game. However, Johnson led the Cardinals in receiving with eight receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown, while Larry Fitzgerald added four catches for 53 yards.
Special Teams: A-
Kicker Matt Bryant wasn’t asked to do too much in this game, hitting his only field goal attempt — a 45-yarder — and then hitting all five extra point attempts. Matt Wile punted the ball twice, averaging 58 yards on each punt. The return game was little used, with one kick return for 23 yards and two punt returns for a total of six yards.
It seems like when Julio Jones has an off day, the Falcons offense finds a way to get other players involved. On Sunday, it was a nice mix of run and pass, with 26 completions on 34 pass attempts and 30 rushing attempts in the game. The result was three rushing touchdowns from a team that is usually a pass-first offense. It was also a solid defensive showing with the Falcons focusing on shutting down one of the NFL’s best runners.
Up next: The Atlanta Falcons (7-4) take on the Kansas City Chiefs, the last team on the Falcons’ schedule to have an actual winning record at this time. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers don’t look like they are letting up, especially after a dominating win over the Seattle Seahawks this week, so the Falcons need to win this big one to continue to control their own destiny.