The Cowboys passing attack and fleet of wide receivers were just too much for the Falcons’ shaky pass defense.
Going against his former head coach in Dan Quinn, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan turned in his lowest passer rating of his career, 21.4, as he completed just 9 of 21 passes for 117 yards and two interceptions.
After being fired by the Falcons last season, Quinn was named Dallas’ defensive coordinator.
Ryan’s previous low was 29.6 in the second game of his career against Tampa Bay in 2008. He was pulled for backup quarterbacks Josh Rosen and Feleipe Franks after things got out of hand.
“I thought he did a great job of putting his guys in position to make plays,” Ryan said.
Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott was 24 of 31 for 296 yards and two touchdown passes. He ran for another score.
The Falcons entered the day as the No. 7 seed for the playoffs, but came out of the game shaken at 4-5 on the season. Dallas improved to 7-2.
The Falcons will need to lick their wounds and try to rebound quickly as they host the New England Patriots at 8:20 p.m. on Thursday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“We were out-coached and out-played,” Smith said.
Here are five things we learned from the beatdown:
Fourth down call: This one got out of hand late in the first quarter after the Falcons failed to convert on a fourth down-and-7 from Dallas’ 32-yard line. With the score 7-3, Falcons coach Arthur Smith elected to go for it instead of kicking a 49-yard field goal.
The move made sense because the Falcons were going to need to score points and try to keep the Cowboys potent offense off the field.
“We wanted to be aggressive coming in here,” Smith said. “We knew what kind of offense we were playing on the other side. We made the decision to be aggressive...that’s kind of where the momentum swung the other way.”
The pass to wide receiver Russell Gage was swatted down by cornerback Jourdan Lewis and things snowballed downhill from there.
After stopping the Falcons, the Cowboys converted a fourth down during a 12-play touchdown drive. Running back Zeke Elliot scored on a yard touchdown run to make it 14-3. On the fourth-down conversion, rookie cornerback Avery Williams was roasted by CeeDee Lamb for a 21-yard gain. While the Falcons played zones and man-to-man, Williams had a tough day in coverage.
Lamb added a 13-yard touchdown that made it 21-3.
After stopping the Falcons again, the Cowboys scored on a 9-yard touchdown pass Lamb, who finished with six catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns, to make it 28-3.
“CeeDee Lamb is a heck of a player,” Falcons safety Duron Harmon said.
Blocked in Dallas: On the Falcons subsequent drive, after the Cowboys went up 28-3, the Cowboys’ Dorance Armstrong blocked Dustin Colquitt’s punt and it was recovered in the end zone by Nahshon Wright for a touchdown late in the second quarter.
After the score, the Falcons were called for 12-man on the field and the Cowboys elected to move the ball to 1-yard line and scored on a two-point conversion run by Elliott to make it 36-3 at the half.
“No matter how ugly it was, it just counts as one game in the win-loss column,” Ryan said.
Dallas was coming off a 30-16 loss to Denver.
“We knew they’ come out fired up,” Harmon said. “And they were.”
Motivational speaker: The Falcons were outgained 265 to 77 yards in the first half.
On the 13-yard touchdown pass, Elliott picked up Deion Jones on the blitz and that gave Prescott enough time to wait for Lamb to get open out to his left.
Smith’s halftime motivational skills were tested.
The Falcons were up at the half in the past six games and won four of them. Their biggest halftime deficit was 21-10 at Tampa Bay in Week 2.
“See if we can fight,” Smith said was his halftime theme. “Like I said, the third quarter was kind of malaise. (It) went back and forth. We threw a couple of picks. You have to credit them.”
Smith went to his bench players early.
“Then it was pretty much, we know we have to play Thursday,” Smith said. “So that’s why you saw a heavy dose of Rosen, (running back Wayne) Gallman and those other guys.”
4. Big time sack: Down 21-3 and needing a drive to get back in the game, Armstrong got a sack on third down to force a punt.
Quinn dialed up a blitz on a key third down. He looped Armstrong in to the center-guard gap and he had a free path to Ryan and dropped him for an 11-yard loss.
The Cowboys finished with two sacks and five quarterback hits. Rookie linebacker Micah Parsons had the other sack.
5. Third down inefficiency : The Falcons were 1 of 11 on third down (9.1%) conversions and 0 of 2 on fourth down (0%).
Dallas converted 6 of 14 third downs (42.9 percent) and were 3 of 3 on fourth down (100%) conversions.
“We started out, I thought we were in a pretty good rhythm,” Smith said. “We stalled on the third-and-7, and fourth-and-7. Then we had two quick three-and-outs. It’s all 11 of us. We have got to get open verse man coverage. We have to protect. He’s obviously has to deliver the football.
“You can blame on the whole team. Blame it on the play calling. Whatever it is, it’s the whole team. That’s what happened.”
The Bow Tie Chronicles
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Atlanta Falcons schedule and scores
Eagles 32, Falcons 6
Buccaneers 48, Falcons 25
Falcons 17, Giants 14
Washington 34, Falcons 30
Falcons 27, Jets 20
Falcons 30, Dolphins 28
Panthers 19, Falcons 13
Falcons 27, Saints 25
Next four games
Patriots at Falcons, 8:20 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 18
Falcons at Jacksonville, 1 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 28
Tampa Bay at Atlanta, 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 5
Atlanta at Carolina, 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 12