Falcons win (but run before somebody changes their mind)

Falcons' real stars came on defense, like this fumble return for a touchdown by Jonathan Babineaux. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

Falcons' real stars came on defense, like this fumble return for a touchdown by Jonathan Babineaux. (Curtis Compton/AJC)

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

Busy times … earlier blogs you might’ve missed

Short takes: Ryan awful, defense great, win important

Georgia’s new reality: From on the brink to BCS title possibility

Upsets launch Georgia into BCS title picture (updated game column)

Short takes: Murray wakes up the offense

Weekend Predictions: Dogs, Jackets, Falcons and the lust triangles

Falcons’ flaws aren’t worse than any other NFL team

College hoop kings provide rare thrills for Atlanta

Falcons’ startling admission: Ray Edwards was a blunder

Will SEC get team to BCS championship (answer below) (with video)

Georgia wins SEC East, and looks like threat to Alabama

Richt is coaching through pain (because he fell off a swing … honest)

255 comments Add your comment

Trevinb

November 18th, 2012
7:15 pm

Great teams win games like this.

Falcon Mania

November 18th, 2012
7:16 pm

"Chef" Tim Dix

November 18th, 2012
7:28 pm

I was in attendance and really wished I’d stayed home. The running game issue screws everything up.

PlanoDawg

November 18th, 2012
7:28 pm

So that’s 5 straight winning seasons now, right?

rallypastdefeat

November 18th, 2012
7:30 pm

Why wont we try that other running back Antoine Smith? We also need a blocking Fullback. We truly missed Sean Weatherspoon and linebacker, and Abraham is still not getting any help on the other side. What is the status of Brent Grimes?

Tojo

November 18th, 2012
7:30 pm

That stank.

Falcons better fix whats broke, or Tampa will beat them soundly next week. And there’s a lot that’s broke. Turner less than 50 yds rushing, again. If they keep giving up long runs, which hopefully Spoon can help stop, the kid from Tampa might go for 300 next week.

Pee-ew

Tonyb

November 18th, 2012
7:35 pm

Would be interesting to see the last time an NFL team won a game with 6 total turnovers.But I will certainly take a ugly win over an ugly loss anytime.

The NFL has to change that challenge rule. Ok, if they want to access a 15 yards penalty on an automatic booth review, that’s fine. But to say we are not going to review the play at all to see if the referees made a mistake which is required by rule, well, that makes no sense. By the way, I watched the play after I got home, and I think it was a good play and would have been upheld.

GO FALCONS.

Falcon Mania

November 18th, 2012
7:37 pm

Tampa or Bust

falcon freak

November 18th, 2012
7:42 pm

can we please get anyone to return punts? is tim dwight still out there?

abby normal

November 18th, 2012
7:45 pm

Good Gawd Almighty!!!!! That has to be the worst winning game the Falcons have ever played. The entire defense deserves game balls. “Matty Melt” was horrid except for one really good drive. Tampa’s next and we better play a whole lot better or it’s lights out.

JSS

November 18th, 2012
7:48 pm

What do you not get about forfeiting your right to a challenge when you prematurely try to ask for it? It was already going to be reviewed… Smith the all wise one, instead he tried to pull a fast one (like he did when pulled calling a TO when he did not have one) like he did earlier this season… There’s an equalization of football fate…

Man...

November 18th, 2012
7:51 pm

The rules are trying to help the coaches save challenges, by reviewing scoring plays and turnovers……Smithy forgot that somehow.

Besides, luckily for us, it would have been upheld. Great play, and eerily similar to something someone has done to us before, I believe the Saints last season or so.

Quizz is looking great at finishing games out, and he’s looking good at everything he does overall.

MalibuGT

November 18th, 2012
7:52 pm

is it just me or does franks look totally lost on punt returns??

JSS

November 18th, 2012
7:55 pm

And almost 2 years to the day (11-21-2010), the Jags-vs-Browns 24-20… The Jags had 6 TOs and the inept Browns only turned those turnovers into 3 points…

Sallymander

November 18th, 2012
8:09 pm

Yeah, it wasn’t a pretty win, and yeah, we’re playing Tampa Bay next week… but did you guys see the Tampa – Carolina game? Tampa baaaaarely squeaked out a win against Carolina – and that in OT, might I add. Remember when we were getting flak for barely beating Carolina? I don’t hear anybody criticising the Bucs over it.

Come to think of it, several games either ended in OT or were decided in the last few minutes of the games – many near-upsets occurred. The Falcons aren’t the only team pulling out ugly wins – so let’s savor the win and focus on beating Tampa next week – I don’t care if it’s by 1 point or 21 points.

No Offense...

November 18th, 2012
8:16 pm

Tampa’s Doug Martin will rush for 225 & 3 tds next week. And Tampa has a qb too named Josh Freeman unlike Cardinals two back-up qbs. Tampa will expose what we all fear. A truly weak defense that looks good against weak NFL teams… Matt Ryan played awful. He had 10 balls tipped by linemen and clanked an int off another Tampa dl. Mike Smith doesn’t throw challenge flag when he should then throws it when he shouldn’t. If I’m Arthur Blank I ask “What in the helll was that”?

Mr. SaintsFan Jr.

November 18th, 2012
8:18 pm

Lucky birds! had this been any other team you wouldn’t have pulled it out,don’t get too high on yourselves.

whodat70816

November 18th, 2012
8:23 pm

How the Cards gave away that game is beyond comprehension…

All they had to do was keep running the ball. Instead they decide to put the game in their Rookie QB’s hands.

Oh well…lucky win Falcons….but your luck ends next week with Doug Martin and then the week after with Ivory, Ingram, PT and Sproles (oh yeah, he’ll be back by then).

Congrats on the 9-1.

LDawg

November 18th, 2012
8:27 pm

Tim Dwight was gonzo!!! He would return ANYTHING!!! We need someone like that – who does not give a crap and will let it rip anyway….

Drew Breezed

November 18th, 2012
8:28 pm

I watched Patriots-Colts game and Patriots look 10 times better than Falcons do. I see now why critics say Falcons 9-1 record is just on paper. We all know this team can’t beat 49ers,Giants,Saints,Bucs,Packers,Bears in the playoffs. No running game & Mr. Pick Matty Ice = early playoff exit. I thought this year was different ? I was wrong!

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November 18th, 2012
8:28 pm

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BCC0224

November 18th, 2012
8:31 pm

Again, played down to Arizona’s level. However, I’ll take a win with a team that played ugly than a team who dominated the entire game, only to lose on a last-second field goal. (Saw enough of those in the Glanville/June Jones era).

Next week @ Tampa Bay before a Thursday Night game with those whiny twerps from the Bayou at the Dome. Hopefully the Falcons who crushed San Diego in Week III will be present in those games.

LDawg

November 18th, 2012
8:33 pm

The offense has pulled our butts out of the fire in the past, so this time it was the defense’s turn… That is why it is a TEAM sport. Now if they could actually work on the same day…

stendek

November 18th, 2012
8:34 pm

It was a flashback Jeff. Not a good one either. As a Falcon watcher from the start I swore that was Chris Miller and the inept offense in Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. Just an illusion. It was Matthew Ryan and his inept offense in the Georgia Dome. Michael Turner needs to go. The guy has become completely worthless. Guess injury to Julio Jones has made him mere mortal. Oh well. Tony Gonzalez is still my favorite Falcon. Matty Lice was a liability on this day. I do not know where his mind was Sunday afternoon but it was not on football. Cannot argue with 9-1 record but home victory over New Orleans Saints mandatory. If Falcons drop season series to allow Bayou boys into playoffs it could be a short playoff run. Again! Was Roddy White texting on that interception? Did Falcon QB complete as many passes to his own guys as jhe did to Arizona CArdinals? That was a Jeff George type performance. Pathetic. Oh well. Onward and upward. I hope. :)

C

November 18th, 2012
8:35 pm

Ugly. Much better than losing.

LDawg

November 18th, 2012
8:36 pm

DrewBreezed – How often has Ryan thrown 1 pick – now you’re calling him Mr. Pick? Get real. Go back to your own blogs.

LDawg

November 18th, 2012
8:37 pm

It was awful to be sure, but the guy still threw 300+ yards.

Jeff Schultz

November 18th, 2012
8:39 pm

PlanoDawg — “So that’s 5 straight winning seasons now, right?”
<<< Yes, it came up in conversation in the press box after game. Funny how it’s an afterthought now.

Jeff Schultz

November 18th, 2012
8:41 pm

DrewBreezed — Patriots aren’t only team that looked better than Falcons today. So did some Sun Belt teams Saturday. Not the point — 9-1 is 9-1. Only matters when you lose.

Jeff Schultz

November 18th, 2012
8:44 pm

JSS — That’s a weird rule though, and I honestly didn’t know it (not that that’s an excuse for Smith). Also don’t understand why it would nullify team’s chance to look at replay, on top of “unsportsmanlike conduct.” Very strange.

JSS

November 18th, 2012
8:44 pm

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh, the spin cycle is running…

JSS

November 18th, 2012
8:48 pm

@ Jeff Schultz…
It is to keep coaches from challenging at will… Parcell’s was famous for doing it to stop momentum swings at turnovers… The Rules Committee used it as a punishing deterrent… Now you see why..

JSS

November 18th, 2012
8:53 pm

Look at it this way, It is kind of like withdrawing from a retirement account before you reach the age to withdraw, there’s a high penalty to force you to wait…

MTSeats

November 18th, 2012
8:54 pm

Think we’ve been here before. Winning seasons only matter when you win a SB.

cory dillinger

November 18th, 2012
8:57 pm

Anybody notice that the Falcons this year have played much worse at home than they have on the road maybe they are too comfortable but they need to get it together or it won’t be any good to have home field advantage.

Ole Smoky

November 18th, 2012
8:57 pm

I’m taking the Bucs & the points…

Tommy

November 18th, 2012
9:05 pm

anyone look at the other scores today??

Jacksonville took Houston into overtime and hung 37 points on the Texans’ defense. . without Maurice Jones-Drew. . .

Cleveland took Dallas to overtime. . .

for all of the talk about Tampa, they tied it on the final play. . . .

any given Sunday. . . they won. Yes, if they play like that in the playoffs they won’t stand a chance, but neither will the Giants if they play like they did in Cincinnati last week

oldmike

November 18th, 2012
9:15 pm

So Matt threw 5 interceptions. Still when it mattered late he drove the team for a score and the win. I guess that doesn’t count for anything for all the negative trolls out here. why is every other team better than we are? Give them some props. The won in spite of themselves. That says something about the character and will of the team. And please will all the Saints fans that post here please go AWAY.

JSS

November 18th, 2012
9:18 pm

Cincinnati is hot, Arizona is not! And it is not like Giants lost to the Saints (hold your venom NO fans, making a point here) and got carried to the limit by a team by the 3rd best choices on the Cards roster at QB and RB… They lost to the Steelers (remember Dennis Dixon?)…

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

November 18th, 2012
9:21 pm

Just when I thought CHOKE could not suck more, he never fails to amaze me…………….

HA HA :)

Well at least he’s consistent :)

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

November 18th, 2012
9:23 pm

Trevinb

November 18th, 2012
7:15 pm
Great teams win games like this.

_________________________________________________

No they don’t. Great teams don’t throw 5 picks vs a 4-5 team :)

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

November 18th, 2012
9:25 pm

PlanoDawg

November 18th, 2012
7:28 pm
So that’s 5 straight winning seasons now, right?

_______________________________________

Yep that’s 5 straight seasons without a playoff win :)

Jeff Schultz

November 18th, 2012
9:28 pm

JSS — Sorry, that doesn’t make sense. If a coach is out of challenges, it’s a penalty if you throw flag. But LOSING a review when it’s GOING TO BE reviewed as a result of stupidly throwing the flag doesn’t fly with me. Dumb rule.

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

November 18th, 2012
9:28 pm

It’s looking like a rematch with Green Bay or Giants in the 1st round…………..

Uh oh…………..72-23 aint a good memory :)

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

November 18th, 2012
9:30 pm

To some people, clipping is a dumb rule. Coaches are paid to know rules :)

jo

November 18th, 2012
9:31 pm

Falcons should have won last week without a doubt. Today they should haven lost without a doubt. The football gods have made things even. Lets hope the falcons get their stuff together for the Bucks as they are playing well now.

Matt "CHOKE" Ryan

November 18th, 2012
9:32 pm

Vincent Jackson, Dallas Clark, Mike Williams & the running game is going to be fun next week and then follow that up with a heavy dose of Drew Brees.

CHOKE won’t be bailed out by opponents lack of qb play. :)

JSS

November 18th, 2012
9:34 pm

Dumb? Maybe, but they made it more punitive that’s all… NFL coaches try to stop the bleeding at turnovers with challenges just to delay the game… Smith knew it, he got caught like one of those old Keystone Cops movies when the outhouse falls apart!

JSS

November 18th, 2012
9:36 pm

“Bucks?” Are the Big O and Lew Alcindor going to be there?

Mark

November 18th, 2012
9:37 pm

9-1…….So What