For the most part, they were on the mark early in the game and then needed to recover a late onsides kick to hold on for the victory. But they watched the ball roll and Dallas' C.J. Goodwin, a former Falcon, recovered.
Greg Zuerlein kicked at 46-yard field goal at the buzzer to beat the Falcons 40-39 before 21,708 fans Sunday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“We have to close them games out,” Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley said. “That’s our win right there. Without a doubt, that’s our win.”
Three Falcons, Olamide Zaccheaus, Hayden Hurst and Sharrod Neasman, all had a chance to dive on the ball. They watched it roll. At 10 yards, Goodwin, who was on the Falcons in 2016 and 17, made his move.
“I was on the field on the onsides,” Ridley said. “Just crazy. I wish it was my side. I can’t believe it. We’ve got to get that. I wish it was me. I would have…I don’t know. We take that as a group. We lost it as a group.”
The Falcons were prepared for a high, pop-up kick and had wide receiver Julio Jones on the second line to go get it.
They didn’t know what to do with the slow roller.
“You want to fall on it,” Ridley said. “From what I looked at, the guys didn’t think it would go 10 (yards), but still we have to learn from it. Now, we know we have to go get on it.”
The Falcons blew a 20-0 start and were up by 15 points with 4:45 to play before their collapse. Also, the unsuccessful attempt to go for a two-point conversion after going up 26-10 in the second quarter came back to haunt them as the Cowboys overcame four fumbles.
On Ridley’s first touchdown, a 22-yard reception, he put a move on Dallas cornerback Chidobe Awuzie and got open. After making the catch, he showed enough body control to turn up the field and touch the ball across the goal line.
On his second touchdown, Ridley broke wide open after going inside and then breaking outside along the back of the end zone. He left Awuzie grabbing for him as he fell to the turf on the 3-yard touchdown dive. The touchdown capped a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that took 6:11 off the clock.
The Falcons led 29-10 at halftime as Ridley had five catches for 85 yards and two touchdowns. He finished with seven catches for 109 yards and two scores.
Through the first eight quarters of the season, Ridley has four touchdowns.
“Super Bowl,” Ridley said of his mindset heading into the season. “My mindset is the help the team. If I’m helping the team, whatever I can do for the win. Put the team in position to go to the Super Bowl and playoffs. If that’s me catching two to three touchdowns a game. That’s what I will do.”
2. Turnover machine. Falcons linebacker Foye Oluokun forced two turnovers and Dante Fowler forced another to help the Falcons build their early lead. Eventually, the defense would get shredded.
The Cowboys amassed 570 yards and 33 first downs.
“We didn’t make the mark we wanted to on third downs,” Quinn said. “I thought some drives were able to get extended. Then I thought a couple of big plays in the second half were certainly the big factor in why those yards crept up like they did.”
Also, the Falcons used middle linebacker Deion Jones as a blitzer early. Also, determined to generate a pass rush, cornerback A.J. Terrell blitzed off the corner later in the game.
Jones forced Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott out of the pocket. Fowler poked the ball out and John Cominsky recovered on Dallas' second possession.
Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter
Ryan tossed a 22-yard touchdown pass to Ridley on the next play to put the Falcons up 7-0.
On Dallas next series, Oluokun punched the ball off Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott and Grady Jarrett recovered.
Ryan tossed a 42-yard touchdown pass to tight end Hayden Hurst to put the Falcons up 14-0. The Falcons added a 42-yard field goal by Younghoe Koo and then Oluokun forced another fumble and defensive tackle Deadrin Senat recovered.
Koo added a 27-yard field goal to make it 20-0. Then things got strange.
3. Jones' hamstring. Quinn tried to downplay Jones' hamstring injury and said his concern level was “low” heading into the game.
Jones, like he has so many times before, battled through a left hamstring injury during the game. He had only a catch for 5 yards until he picked up 19 yards on a key fourth-down conversion.
The training staff was shown several times on the sideline stretching out his left hamstring.
Jones said his hamstring was bothering him when he dropped a potential touchdown pass from Russell Gage out of the wildcat formation.
“A little,” Jones said. “I just can’t run the way I want to run.”
If Jones has scored, the Falcons would have gone up 36-17. They were set to go for it on fourth-and-2 from Dallas’ 41, but they were called for a questionable 12-man-on-the-field penalty and were forced to punt.
The TV announcers noted that the Falcons had 11 men on the field and that Jones was off the field.
“I’m just going to say, it was one that we discussed,” Quinn said. “It’s hopefully one that won’t happen again. It was anything that the team had fouled up.”
4. Run game stuffed. The Cowboys were able to hang around because the Falcons could not run the ball effectively.
Running Backs Todd Gurley, Brian Hill and Ito Smith didn’t find much room to operate. Gurley rushed 21 times for 61 yards. Hill had three carries for 14 yards and Smith had five carries for 20 yards.
Overall, the Falcons had 33 carries for 113 yards and averaged a paltry 3.3 yards per carry.
The lack of a rushing attack was a factor late when the Falcons had to throw with a 15-point lead and could have run out the clock.
5. Injury report: The game could be costly as the Falcons lost four starters to injury.
D. Orlando Ledbetter, Esq is the award-winning Atlanta Falcons beat writer for the newspaper, has been on the staff since 2003. Every day D. Orlando strives to provide inside in the Falcons and the NFL. He finds the most joy in providing insight into the team, the coaching moves, the offseason business moves, the draft and the games.