Eight up. Eight down.
The Falcons flexed their muscles against the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night to remain the only undefeated team in the NFL.
On a day when the pass protection was spotty, the defense was leaky and the field goal kicker was not automatic, the Falcons hung on to pull out a 19-13 victory before 70,840 fans at a rowdy Georgia Dome.
“I thought our guys had a really hard fought football game against a very good football team,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “It was an electric atmosphere for the entire 60 minutes. I like the way our team played tonight in all three phases.”
A national television audience saw a good evening’s work from quarterback Matt Ryan (342 passing yards with no interceptions), wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, who had 247 yards in receptions between them, and running backs Michael Turner (102 rushing yards) and Jacquizz Rodgers.
The Falcons trailed early 6-0, but like they have so many times in the five years under Smith, they showed their resiliency with the game in the balance.
With the win, the Falcons took a four-game lead over Tampa Bay (4-4) in the NFC South as they head into the second half of the season. The Saints (2-5), who play on “Monday Night Football,” are 5 1/2 games back and the Panthers (2-6) are six games back.
Extending the best start to a season in franchise history, the Falcons had stated their top goal is to win their division and that is nearly done at the halfway point of the season.
Dallas, considered a preseason contender in the NFC East, dropped to 3-5.
“We did a nice job staying focused because it could’ve been real easy early on when we held those first two scored to field goals,” Smith said. “We did some things very well. I can’t say enough about the guys and it’s week-to-week. We’ll put this one behind us and move on to the next one.”
After the Cowboys moved the ball in the early going. Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan made some adjustments, forcing the Cowboys to punt on four straight possession starting late in the second quarter and into the third quarter.
“It’s not about ratings,” Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said. “It’s about winning and losing.”
The offense took advantage of that opening, tying the game by halftime and putting together a touchdown drive and a following field goal to open a 16-6 lead with 7:53 to play.
But the defense allowed the Cowboys to quickly drive 78 yards in 2:28. Romo connected with wide receiver Kevin Ogletree for a 20-yard touchdown to close the lead to 16-13 with just over 5 minutes to play.
It was then Rodgers’ turn. He converted on two key third downs to help the offense stay on the field and run the clock down to 22 seconds. Bryant then made a 32-yard field goal for the game’s final points to cap a 12-play, 66-yard drive that took 5:04 off the clock.
The Falcons did not get off to one of the trademark fast starts and had to fight hard just to scratch out a 6-6 halftime tie.
On Atlanta’s opening drive, fullback Lousaka Polite dropped a pass, Turner was stuffed on second down and Matt Ryan tossed an incompletion on third down.
Dallas’s Dwayne Harris, a Tucker High School product, took Matt Bosher’s punt and returned it 37 yards to set the Cowboys up at Atlanta’s 32-yard line. Linebacker Mike Peterson made a touchdown saving tackle.
The Cowboys drove to the Falcons’ 5 before their drive stalled. Dan Bailey came on a made a 23-yard field goal to make it 3-0.
Bryant, who was listed on the injury report with a back problem, missed a 37-yard field goal to end the Falcons’ second possession. He entered the game making 92.5 percent (148 of 160) of his field goal attempts under 40 yards and hadn’t missed one under 40 since the Cleveland Browns blocked a 30-yard attempt on Oct. 10, 2010. He wound up converted four of six attempts.
On the Cowboys next possession, Romo kept the drive alive by connecting with Kevin Ogletree on a third-and-20 for a 65-yard gain behind cornerback Dunta Robinson.
The defense held and Bailey came on and made a 32-yard field goal to make it 6-0.
The Falcons drove from their 27 to the Cowboys’ 27 before the drive stalled. Bryant made a 45-yard field goal to make it 6-3.
“This whole season we’ve been finding a number of ways to win football games; that’s the true test of a team, not just winning in one particular style of play,” Turner said.
The Falcons will have a chance to tie the franchise mark for most consecutive wins when they face the Saints at 1 p.m. Sunday in New Orleans. The Falcons won nine straight games in 1980 and 1998.
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