Cardinals Best Falcons in High-Scoring Game

Dan Neil

The Arizona Cardinals defeated the Atlanta Falcons 34-33 in Glendale, Arizona in a high-flying affair. The wild west was host to a duel between veteran quarterback Matt Ryan and rookie Kyler Murray. The Cardinals, in their crisp alternate uniforms, were the last man standing when the clock chimed, close though it was.

The Cardinals were led in a dominating first half by Kyler Murray. In two quarters he put up Madden numbers: 84% completion, a gaudy 12.6 yards per attempt, and a passer rating over 130. 

In the first half, David Johnson, Kyler Murray, and Chase Edmonds combined for 60 yards on 16 total rushes. The tailbacks also compiled 54 and 33 yards receiving, respectively. 

The Cardinals defense gave up a touchdown to Matt Ryan and Calvin Ridley on the opening drive of the game, and then clamped down. Offensive penalties (some of which were silly on the Falcons' part- including a 5-yard delay of game penalty following a 10-yard offensive holding call which stalled their drive) doomed their next drive, forcing them to punt into the waiting hands of wide receiver Pharoh Cooper (who also had an amazing 38 yard reception in the first quarter).

Matt Ryan was sacked by Corey Peters and Rodney Gunter on 3rd and 2 on the next drive, leading to another punt. Their next drive resulted in a field goal after again stalling out in the red zone, bringing the visiting team's point total in the first half to 10.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, didn't stall out once in the first half. Every drive resulted in points- Kyler Murray was efficient with the football, consistently finding weak points in the Falcons' defense and exploiting them. The Cardinals were also balanced, rushing 16 times and passing 19 times. 

Kyler Murray had a shaky start to the second half, missing on three straight passes before an 8-yard completion to Larry Fitzgerald on 3rd and 10. Kliff Kingsbury kept the Cards aggressive on 4th down, and Murray connected with tight end Charles Clay for 6 yards to keep the drive alive, and momentum on their side. That drive ended in a 20-yard score near the left pylon by tight end Maxx Williams on a designed rollout to the right. This put the home team up 27-10.

The Falcons, needing a score to keep the game close, were forced to settle for a field goal when the Cardinals defense tightened up inside the red zone, bringing the score to 27-13. On the next drive, offensive penalties by the Cardinals forced them to punt for the first time in the game, with 5:48 remaining in the 3rd quarter.

The Falcons again drove down the field, but this time came away with 7 points on a short pass from Matt Ryan to halfback Devonta Freeman. The Cardinals' weakness to tight ends was on full display, with Atlanta's Austin Hooper beating coverage as Matt Ryan led an 11-play drive starting from their own 10 to bring the game within 7.

The Cardinals were again forced to punt when the Falcons defense made a key stop on third-and-short. With about fourteen minutes remaining in the game, the Falcons marched down the field on three consecutive passes by Matt Ryan. A defensive penalty brought them to 1st and goal at the 9, where Matt Ryan connected with Austin Hooper for a 7-yard touchdown on 2nd and 7. The Falcons, much like the Bengals, had stormed back from a two-score deficit.

With 10:50 left in the game and the score tied at 27, the Cardinals stalled for the third time in a row- a surefire first-down catch was dropped by wide receiver Pharoh Cooper, forcing the Cardinals to punt from their 30 yard line. Through the first two periods, the momentum was fully on the Cardinals' side; now, it seemed to have shifted as the Falcons offense took the field.

The Falcons looked for their third scoring drive in a row, getting to midfield before a Chandler Jones sack on third down forced them to punt. Following yet another strange penalty on the falcons during the punt which put the Cardinals at the 45, Kyler Murray and company sought to capitalize on the opportunity with 7:12 to go.

Yet another penalty (horsecollar tackle on Vic Beasley) gave the Cardinals even better field position. One play later, Kyler Murray threw a beautiful pass over coverage hauled in by David Johnson in the end zone. The Cardinals, having seized the flow of the game, broke the 30 point mark for the first time since 2017. Kyler Murray's third passing touchdown of the day gave the Cardinals the lead again, 34-27 with 5:12 remaining.

The Falcons responded in kind, only needing 6 plays to put them in familiar territory- the Cardinals' red zone. Immediately following the two minute warning, a screen pass from Matt Ryan allowed Devonta Freeman to walk into the end zone. 

But then, Atlanta suffered one of the worst misfortunes a team can suffer: an agonizing Matt Bryant miss on the extra point to tie the game left the Cardinals in the lead following the Falcons' furious comeback, 34-33. It was the kicker's first miss on an extra point this season. With 1:53 remaining, the Cards offense took the field, hoping to ice the game with a first down or two.

On a controversial first down run by Kyler Murray, the Cardinals sealed the game, running the Falcons out of timeouts. Less than two minutes of game time later, the Arizona Cardinals moved to 2-3-1 on the season and knocked the Falcons down to 1-5. 

In true gunslinger fashion, Kyler Murray finished the game with 27/37 passing for 340 yards and 3 scores,, and added 32 rushing yards. Matt Ryan's numbers were even gaudier, racking up 356 yards and four scores, as well as completing 30 of 36 attempted passes. Both offenses showed up and showed out.

Meanwhile, David Johnson finished with 34 rushing yards on 12 attempts, one for a 1-yard score, and 6 receptions for 68 yards and another score. Chase Edmonds finished with 5 rushes for 34 yards, and received two passes for 33 yards and a score. Larry Fitzgerald finished tied for first with David Johnson in receptions with 6, but was the team's leading receiver in yardage with 69 yards. The Arizona defense notched two sacks, but continues this season's interception-less streak.

The Falcons' Devonta Freeman also notched a big game, with 19 rushes for 88 yards and 3 receptions for 33 yards and two scores. Julio Jones had 108 yards on 8 catches and tight end Austin Hooper gashed the Cardinals' defense for 117 yards and a score on 8 catches.

At 2-3-1, the Cardinals are still in the basement of the crowded NFC West. The Falcons' loss ensures they will still reside in the bottom of the NFC South, which has the resurgent Buccaneers and Panthers.

This was a strange win; the Falcons were beset with mental errors which led to penalties at horrible times. The Cardinals were playing a defense without their top two playmakers in the secondary, so it's still far too early to tell who these 2019 Cardinals are; but it's easy to see the progress on the field from last year's offense. Whether the Arizona Cardinals are a good team or not remains to be determined, but at least they're an entertaining one to watch.

Looking ahead, the first two quarterbacks taken in the 2019 NFL Draft will face off when 1st overall pick Kyler Murray and the Cardinals face off against 6th overall pick Daniel Jones and the Giants. The Falcons return to Atlanta for a tough showdown with the Los Angeles Rams. 

Comments (2)
No. 1-2

The Falcons had a decent amount of penalties that cost them precious yards. The one that sticks in my head the most is 12 players in the huddle. Glad to see the Cardinals were able to exploit those errors a bit to get the win


glad to get the win but the defense looked bad

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