Here are the Falcons’ grades for the 23-19 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
F – Quarterbacks: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had a woeful day with five interceptions. He had thrown three interceptions just twice before in 71 regular-season NFL games. He had three earlier this season against Oakland on Oct. 14. He had three against New Orleans on Nov. 2, 2009 in a 35-27 loss. Ryan finished with a passer rating of 40.9, his lowest mark since the second game of his rookie season when he had a 29.6 against Tampa Bay on Sept. 14, 2008.
C – Running backs: Michael Turner had 15 rushes for 46 yards and a 1-yard touchdown run. Overall, the Falcons had 24 carries for 48 yards as they struggled to run the ball again. Jacquizz Rodgers had five carries for 16 yards. However, they were able to hammer out enough yards to help run out the clock in the fourth quarter. Turner’s touchdown run was his fifth and the 55th with the Falcons. He’s the team’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns and has posted 56 total touchdowns (55 rushing and one receiving) with the Falcons. On Sunday, he tied wide receiver Andre Rison for second place on the franchise’s all-time touchdowns list. He trails wide receiver Terance Mathis (57) by one score for a share of the record.
B – Receivers: With Julio Jones clearly slowed by his right ankle injury, Roddy White picked up the slack with eight catches for 123 yards. Harry Douglas chipped in with five catches for 48 yards and Rodgers had five catches for 35 yards. On the season, White has 62 catches for 946 yards with six touchdowns. He needs 54 yards to record his sixth consecutive 1,000-yard season.
B – Offensive line: The line was very strong in pass protection, but did have a few breakdowns against Arizona’s relentless blitz package. Ryan was sacked just once on 46 drop backs. The Cardinals had five quarterback hits. The run game continued to struggle as the running backs both averaged under 4 yards per carry. Turner averaged 3.1 yards per carry and Rodgers averaged 3.2 yards per carry.
A – Defensive line: Defensive end/tackle Jonathan Babineaux had a heads-up play on John Abraham’s sack-stripe of Cardinals quarterback Ryan Lindley. His touchdown was key to the victory. Also, Babineaux was the main beneficiary of the departed Ray Edwards’ snaps. He played defensive end in the base 4-3 defense, while Cliff Matthews and Jonathan Massaquoi also received snaps. Lawrence Sidbury was one of three players not to see any action in the game. (Backup quarterback Luke McCown and recently signed wide receiver Tim Toone did not play.) Abraham had two sacks to give him nine for the season and 121 over his career. He is the NFL’s active sack leader and is one of just 15 players in the NFL to record 120-or-more career sacks.
C – Linebackers: The second level is expected to stop any runs that get by the defensive lineman. This unit let out runs of 40 and 52 yards to the LaRod Stephens-Howling (22 carries for 127 yards and a touchdown). The 5-foot-7, 185-pounder has some speed. Akeem Dent and Stephen Nicholas had four tackles. Mike Peterson had three. Nicholas also dropped Arizona quarterback Ryan Lindley for a 14-yard sack when he ran over the top of fullback Anthony Sherman. “There were some big plays in the ball game,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “I thought the sack by Stephen Nicholas, basically to get them out of field-goal range was one the turning points in that ball game.”
B – Defensive backs: Robert McClain filled in well at left cornerback with Asante Samuel going down with a right shoulder injury. McClain led the team in tackles with seven. Christopher Owens and Dominique Franks came on to play in the nickel and dime packages. Safety Thomas DeCoud appeared to hesitate on Howling’s 40-yard run instead of blowing up the ball carry with a big hit. With the ineffective Arizona quarterback play, the unit basically had the night off in pass coverage. The Falcons held Arizona to 13 percent third down conversion rate (2 of 16).
B – Specials teams: Franks broke loose for a 28-yard return in the third quarter. It was his longest return of the season. “The guys on the outside picked up their blocks and gave me a chance to get started,” Franks said. “That was the biggest key. We wanted to make a big play in the return game and we made one in the kickoff and the punt return game.” Rodgers had a 30-yard kickoff return. Bryant made all three of his attempts and has made 25 of 28 this season, including the last eight in a row. Bosher averaged 47 net yards on four punts. He placed two down inside the 20. Bryant moved past kicker Norm Johnson for sole possession of fourth place in the team’s record book for made field goals. Bryant has made 87 field goals since joining the club in 2009. Johnson (1991-94) made 84.
A-plus – Coaching: There is some genius in the fact that the Falcons were able to win when so much went wrong. From coach Mike Smith’s bad challenge flag toss to Matt Ryan’s uncharacteristic five interceptions, nothing seemed to work. Take the win and move on.
NEXT UP: The Falcons (9-1) face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-4) at 1 p.m. Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in an NFC South showdown. With six games to play, the Falcons have a three-game lead over the Buccaneers and a four-game game lead over the Saints (5-5). The Panthers, who are 2-8, are out of the title race. A win over the Bucs and the Falcons would take a four-game lead with five to play.