Five things learned from Falcons’ loss to Cardinals

GLENDALE, Ariz. — With the 2023 season in a state of flux, quarterback Taylor Heinicke said the Falcons’ game against the Cardinals was their ‘Super Bowl.’

Thanks to Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray and tight end Trey McBride, the Falcons are now 0-3 in ‘Super Bowls’ after a gut-punching 25-23 loss Sunday at State Farm Stadium - the site of Super Bowl 57 earlier this year.

The Falcons dropped to 4-6 as they stumbled into their bye week.

Here are five takeaways from the loss:

1. Scrambling quarterbacks: Murray rushed six times for 33 yards, but his 13-yard scramble on the eventual game-winning drive was the backbreaker for the Falcons.

Safety Richie Grant blitzed, but was picked up by Cardinals running back James Conner. Murray worked his way backwards and reversed his field. Outside linebacker Arnold Ebitketie missed a tackle and lost containment.

Murray was off to the races until linebacker Nate Landman made the tackle.

One of the biggest things is containing the quarterback,” defensive end Calais Campbell told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I think scrambling yards the last three games (have) killed us. I think in the actual run-game we’ve been playing great, phenomenal defense. But with the stats we’re giving up over 100 yards, we are giving up touchdowns. It’s the quarterbacks. We have to better with the scrambling yards. A lot of that is just being disciplined.”

After Minnesota’s Joshua Dobbs broke loose seven times for 66 yards, the Falcons worked on their containment rules before facing Murray, who got loose on third-and-10.

“There is some other stuff we can do to figure it out,” Campbell said. “In big moments being locked in and making tackles and stuff. Just like, simple mistakes.”

Murray was playing his first game in 11 months since his right knee surgery. On the decisive third-down play, Murray traveled 68.9 yards and reached a top speed of 20.17 miles per hour - his fastest speed since Week 16, 2021, according to NextGenStats.

“Kyler just made plays,” Campbell said. “I mean that’s the kind of stuff he can do when he’s on the field. I think the biggest thing is though, you got to be more locked it, more disciplined in the crucial moments of the game. I feel like we’ll get up there and we’re playing good football, you know, eight out of 10 plays, but it’s got be 10 out of 10.”

2. Grant called out: Cardinals tight end McBride requested the ball after Murray’s scramble and two plays later they connected on a 33-yard gain.

“I told Kyler, I usually don’t tell him what to do but I said, if this guy gets me man-to-man, I’ve been killing him all game, just give me a chance,” McBride said. “He did exactly that.”

McBride said he ran the route a little differently, in order to throw Grant off stride.

“For (the) whole game, I was crossing that dude’s face and he was playing real outside on me and he wasn’t going to let me, so I had to take it real high,” McBride said. “Kyler launched it a mile into the air and I just had to come back. I tried to get a pass interference call at the very least, but truthfully I came back, caught the ball and sealed up the deal.”

With the Falcons committing extra help to cover speedster Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, McBride had a huge receiving days with eight receptions for a career-best 131 yards.

“It was cool, it was very special to me that Kyler gave me a chance on that,” McBride said.

3. Are the Falcons any good?: The Falcons have dropped three straight. The Cardinals had won only one game this season.

Maybe the Falcons are not good enough to be expected to beat mediocre teams.

“We’ll find out if we are good enough or not,” Campbell said. “I believe this team is good enough to be whatever it wants to be. There is a lot of football left to prove it.”

The Falcons have seven games remaining and don’t play a team with a winning record. After the bye, they host the Saints (5-5) on Nov. 26, at Jets (4-5) on Dec. 3, host Buccaneers (4-5) on Dec. 10, at Panthers (1-8) on Dec. 17, host Colts (5-5) on Dec. 24, at Bears (3-7) on Dec. 31 and at Saints on Jan. 7.

“Our division is still right there,” Campbell said. “It would (be bad) if somebody took off on us. But right now, it’s right there for the taking. So, it’s just one part at a time and you’ve got to fight for it. At the end of the day, this team has what it takes to be special. You’ve got to believe it, then you’ve got to go fight for it.”

4. Special teams breakdown: Wide receiver Greg Dortch broke free for a 49-yard kickoff return that gave the Cardinals a short field, and ultimately paved the way for a touchdown.

The Falcons gave up a 61-yard return in the 24-16 loss to Washington on Oct. 15.

5. Bye week blues: The Falcons must figure out some things on offense, defense and special teams over the bye week.

The offense needs to solve its short-yardage and red zone issues.

The defense has to stop scrambling quarterbacks and tight ends, while the special teams need to cover punts better.

“Who wants to lose three straight going into a bye?” Campbell said. “Nobody does, but it is what it is. Now, we are sitting here. We just have to regroup.

“Pump the brakes. Take a moment. Get a away from the game and then we’ll study ourselves, figure out what we need to do coming out of this bye to go be the best football team that we can be.”

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