CINCINNATI -- The Falcons’ injury-riddled secondary did not hold up against Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow’s passing assault.

Burrow threw three touchdowns and ran for another as the Bengals beat the Falcons 35-17 on Sunday at Paycor Stadium before 66,158 fans.

The defending AFC champion Bengals jumped out to a 21-0 lead and never allowed the Falcons to come back and make it close. The Bengals improved to 4-3, while the Falcons dropped to 3-4.

This was the first game since starting right cornerback Casey Hayward (shoulder) was placed on injured reserve and starting left cornerback A.J. Terrell left the game early with a hamstring injury. The Falcons played with Darren Hall, Isaiah Oliver and Cornell Armstrong for most of the day. Armstrong was promoted from the practice squad on Saturday.

“We’re not going to make excuses,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “Credit to Cincy. They out-executed us. We can all do better, starting with me.”

Burrow completed 19 of his first 21 passes for 325 yards with :49 seconds left in the first half. Burrow, the former standout at LSU, finished by completing 34 of 42 passes for 481 yards.

“I mean, we all have got to play better,” Falcons safety Richie Grant said. “It was a great opportunity today. This is a tough one.”

Cincinnati receivers Tyler Boyd, Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins combined for 21 catches for 378 yards and three touchdowns.

“I don’t keep up with yards,” Grant said. “Who’s catching or anything. I know they are moving the ball and our job is to stop them. We didn’t do that today.”

The Falcons played mostly zone coverages after getting hit by a 60-yard completion in the first series of the game. The Bengals also had four receivers with at least 25 yards after the catch.

In addition to the issues at cornerback, Falcons safety Jaylinn Hawkins left the game and was being evaluated for a concussion. Dean Marlowe took over for Hawkins.

With Tampa Bay’s loss to Carolina, the Falcons remained tied for first place in the NFC South with the Bucs.

The Bengals’ early dominance resulted in a 28-17 lead at halftime. The passing attack struck early and often. Wide receiver Tyler Boyd got loose for a 60-yard touchdown when Grant fell down when trying to turn and run with Boyd.

The Falcons first possession lasted five plays and ended with a punt. The Bengals went back on the attack. After Terrell left with 8:30 left to play in the first quarter, Bengals running back Joe Mixon had a yard touchdown run to cap 11-play, 71-yard drive.

After a three-and-out by the Falcons, Burrow connected with Chase for a 32-yard touchdown to make it 21-0.

It marked the third game this season the Falcons fell behind by at least 21 points. They were down 28-3 against the Rams on Sept. 18, 21-0 vs. the Bucs on Oct. 9 and 21-0 against the Bengals.

“We have to find a way, when we get on the road against a good team like that, we have to start better,” Smith said.

The slow starts are being critiqued.

“It’s starts on first and second down,” Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota said. “If you get behind the chains, especially against a good team, and you’re in known passing situations on third and long, you’re not converting. You’re just giving the ball right back.”

Mariota completed 8 of 13 passes for 124 yards as the Falcons were held to 40 yards offense in the second half. Most that came on one play, the 75-yard touchdown pass to Damiere Byrd.

Tight end Kyle Pitts was targeted five times and made three catches for nine yards. Wide receiver Drake London had a catch for nine yards.

The Falcons gave the defense a break when the cobbled together a 16-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Tyler Allgeier leaping into the end zone from a yard out for his first career NFL touchdown to make it 21-7. The drive took 10 minutes, 9 seconds off the clock and gave the defense some rest and time to figure out how to slow Burrow.

The Bengals zipped back down the field as Burrow found Chase for a 41-yard catch-and-run to make it 28-7.

The Falcons answered with that 75-yard pass to Byrd to make it 28-14.

The defense forced a punt and Avery Williams broke loose for 56 yards to set the Falcons up for a 43-yard field goal to make if 28-17 at intermission. The Bengals added one yard run for a touchdown by Burrow in the third quarter for the only second-half scoring.

The previous high for passing yards allowed this season by the Falcons was 351 yards against Tampa Bay. The most passing yards allowed by the Falcons was the 499 yards they gave up to Denver on Oct. 31, 2004.

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Atlanta Falcons 2022 schedule

Sept. 11: Saints 27, Falcons 26

Sept. 18: Rams 31, Falcons 27

Sept. 25 Falcons 27, Seahawks 23

Oct. 2 Falcons 23, Browns 20

Oct. 9 Buccaneers 21, Falcons 15

Oct. 16 Falcons 28, 49ers 14

Oct. 23 at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.

Oct. 30 vs. Carolina, 1 p.m.

Nov. 6 vs. Los Angeles Chargers, 1 p.m.

Nov. 10 at Carolina, 8:15 p.m.

Nov. 20 vs. Chicago, 1 p.m.

Nov. 27 at Washington, 1 p.m.

Dec. 4 vs. Pittsburgh, 1 p.m.


Dec. 18 at New Orleans, TBD

Dec. 24 at Baltimore, 1 p.m.

Jan. 1 vs. Arizona, 1 p.m.

Jan. 8 vs. Tampa Bay, TBD