Sometime after the game’s first pass went off Roddy White’s hands and turned into an interception, and Michael Turner was stuffed for no gain and then dropped a pass on the Falcons’ second and third plays, and Matt Ryan (five interceptions) mutated into some unrecognizable being, it probably occurred to everybody: This wasn’t going to be one of those games when we would all fawn over the Falcons’ offense.
“We were kind of sleepwalking through the first quarter,” coach Mike Smith said.
Sleepwalking? Actually, that would’ve been improvement. Curly mixing up the cake flour with the dynamite powder is when things kind of went sideways.
Five interceptions. Six turnovers. A coach who forgot the challenge rule and as a result was penalized and potentially lost an overturn of a fumble.
They won anyway.
This is kind of like a Big Foot sighting. Don’t believe that grainy footage that seemingly shows a scoreboard reading: Falcons 23, Arizona 19? Understandable. Half the players in Atlanta’s locker room probably didn’t believe it, either.
The other half play defense.
“It goes against the law of averages,” Tony Gonzalez said.
If you were a Falcons’ player Sunday, you skipped showering after this game, ran to your car and sped home before some giant hand descended from the heavens and a voice cried out: “Hold everything! A plague of locusts and parting the Red Sea, that’s crazy enough. But even I have my limits.”
Ryan threw five interceptions (three in the first quarter) but the Falcons pulled out a win. This happened for two reasons: 1) The defense was great for much of the day, and until eight minutes into the fourth quarter had provided the team’s only touchdown (Jonathan Babineaux’s fumble returned after a sack and forced fumble by John Abraham); 2) Arizona, except for wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, doesn’t have an offense so much as it has a vaudeville act.
The Cardinals entered the week ranked 31st in offense and scoring. And now we ask: How bad must Jacksonville be?
The Cardinals were gift-wrapped six extra possessions, started five drives in Falcons’ territory (the 9, 18, 35, 16 and 23) and still came away with only one touchdown (13 points off turnovers).
Ryan became the first quarterback to throw five interceptions and no touchdowns and win anyway since Bart Starr in 1967.
“I’m in good company,” Ryan cracked.
Run, Falcons. Run fast.
They are 9-1 with a three-game lead in the NFC South and six games remaining. They have the added advantage of not having to wait for BCS rankings to come out because the NFL standings include no human element or computer rankings. Otherwise, the word, “ewww” probably would be spit out somewhere.
John Abraham laughed. “The only thing we have to worry about is as long as we can put something in the left side (win column) and not the right side, we’re fine.”
Abraham sacked Arizona’s Ryan Lindley in the second quarter just as Lindley was trying to pass. The ball came loose and everybody stood around, thinking it was an incomplete pass, until Abraham screamed, “Pick it up!” So Babineaux picked it up and ran into the end zone. The play was ruled a touchdown and it stood up on appeal, giving the Falcons a 13-10 lead.
Ryan put together one great touchdown drive. That’s all he needed. With Arizona leading 19-16, he completed four of five passes for 54 yards. Running back Michael Turner scored from the one-yard line (honest) for the lead with 6:40 left. Checkmate.
The Falcons escaped. So did Smith. In the third quarter, he threw a challenge flag in hopes of overturning a fumble by Jason Snelling. But all changes of possession are automatically reviewed and throwing the red flag is an automatic unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Strangely, the NFL also nullifies the challenge, effectively saying, “No replay for you!” (Seinfeld’s “Soup Nazi” would’ve been a great replacement official.)
“We’ve got to find a way for the coach to not throw the challenge flag at the wrong time,” Smith said. “I can assure you that one will be addressed very quickly.”
He’ll put himself in timeout. Not that it matters. Style points don’t factor into final scores or standings in the NFL. For that, the Falcons are thankful.
— Jeff Schultz
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