Murray connected with tight end Trey McBride for a 33-yard gain over safety Richie Grant to put the Cardinals in field goal range. Matt Prater made a 23-yard field goal at the buzzer to lift the Cardinals’ record to 2-8.
The Falcons, looking for momentum heading into the bye week, dropped to 4-6. After a 2-0 start, they have dropped six of their past eight games, including three in a row.
“At the end of day, you know, it just comes down to that one play,” a dejected Grant told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I got to make that play.”
The McBride play?
“Got to make the play,” Grant said. “Don’t make the play, lose the game. That was a big play and we just lost.”
McBride finished with eight catches for 131 yards for the Cardinals. It was a career-high in yards for the second-year tight end from Colorado State. He caught 10 passes for 95 yards in a loss to Baltimore on Oct. 29.
The Falcons didn’t make any adjustments for McBride.
“They have the speed on the outside,” Smith said. “He caught some things underneath. Obviously, he made the big play when they stretched (us), took the shot. …it’s not what you wanted there at the end. We have to find a way to fix it. Been our Achilles heel the last two weeks.”
The Falcons have not had a winning season since 2017 and it appears that they are headed in that direction again unless there is a major turnaround over the final seven games.
“Put everything in there, find solutions and go against New Orleans,” Smith said. “That’s the only thing we can do. I feel like we are frustrated, anybody would be when you come up short. But we have to fix what’s been our issues and find a way to get back over in the win column and get over the hump.”
Quarterback Desmond Ridder came off the bench to direct a fourth-quarter touchdown drive that gave the Falcons the lead. Heinicke suffered a hamstring injury.
“I was ready to go,” Ridder said.
But the defense couldn’t hold Murray with 2:33 to play.
Heinicke completed 8 of 15 passes for 55 yards and touchdown. Ridder completed 4 of 6 passes for 39 yards. Running back Bijan Robinson had a career-high 22 carries for 95 yards and a touchdown.
Ridder doesn’t know if he did enough to be restored as the starting quarterback.
“That’s not really my decision,” Ridder said. “My job was to come in and be a backup to Taylor. Be ready to go. I feel like I did my job in that aspect.”
Behind a strong rushing attack and a touchdown pass from Heinicke, the Falcons held a 14-12 lead at halftime.
After an exchange of punts to open the game, the Cardinals went on a 15-play, 63-yard drive that ended with Prater making a 51-yard field goal to make it 3-0. The Cardinals’ drive, which included a fourth-down conversion, took 7:48 off the clock.
The tired Falcons’ defense got some help from the offense, which went on a long drive of its own. Heinicke, who had a nifty 11-yard scramble, tossed a 2-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Scotty Miller. Koo’s point after made it 7-3. The Falcons’ drive went 12 plays for 75 yards and the defense got to rest for 6:21.
The Cardinals added a 46-yard field goal from Prater to make it 7-6 with 10:32 left in the second quarter.
Falcons’ rookie nickel back Clark Phillips had a pass interference penalty during the field goal drive. He was playing in place of Dee Alford, who was out with an ankle injury.
On third-and-4 from the Falcons’ 28, Cardinals wide receiver Marquise Brown got behind Phillips, but couldn’t haul in the slightly overthrown pass by Murray.
The Falcons put together a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Robinson, playing in his home state, scored on a 5-yard run around right end. Koo’s kick made it 14-6.
Murray completed a 9-play, 75-yard drive when he went in untouched from 6 yards out. The Cardinals’ two-point conversion pass was incomplete.
The Falcons had trouble with McBride, who had four catches for 62 yards in the first half.
The Falcons ran the ball well in the first half, as they had 20 attempts for 110 yards. Heinicke, who had another nice scramble for 17 yards in the Robinson touchdown drive, was 5 of 11 passing for 30 yards at the half.
“I don’t want this to become a habit off ours.” wide receiver Drake London said. “We just need to switch some things up that’s it.”
London, who returned after missing one game with a groin injury, had three catches for 36 yards.
“The game just happened, so I can’t pinpoint exactly where it’s at,” London said about switching things up. “But I know, myself, I can do better on a lot of things and help this team win on my part, personally.”
The Falcons had a three-and-out to start the third quarter and the Cardinals answered with a 56-yard field goal to take a 15-14 lead with 9:16 left in the third quarter.
On the Falcons’ second possession of the third quarter, they couldn’t overcome a Kaleb McGary holding call and sack by Cardinals outside linebacker B.J. Ojulari, who played at Marietta High and LSU. The Falcons were forced to punt, and the Cardinals were back in business at their 25-yard line with 6:46 left.
Murray’s pass intended for McBride was intercepted by linebacker Nate Landman, who returned it to the 14.
The Falcons’ offense went backwards and had to settle for a 36-yard field to make it 17-15.
The defense forced a punt on the Cardinals subsequent possession.
The Falcons had the ball at the 16-yard line after a 54-yard punt by Blake Gillikin with 3:13 to go in the third quarter. The Falcons couldn’t get moving and Ojulari had another sack. Greg Dortch broke loose on a 49-yard punt return down to the Falcons’ 21.
After a 6-yard gain by Murray and a 14-yard completion to Michael Wilson, backup quarterback Clayton Tune scored from a yard out to make it 22-17.
On the Falcons’ next possession, Heinicke suffered a hamstring injury and Ridder took over. The Falcons’ drive stalled at the Cardinals’ 21-yard line when Ridder was stopped by Cardinals defensive tackle Jonathan Ledbetter on fourth down-and-1 with 7:49 to play. Ledbetter played at Tucker High and Georgia.
The defense made a stop, and the offense had the ball back at the Falcons’ 20 with 5:43 to play. The final stages of the game were set after the Falcons scored and then couldn’t stop Murray, who was playing his first game after knee surgery 11 months ago.
“It was tough today,” Robinson said. “You hate losing. It was a close game, but obviously we’ve got to get better at a lot of different things. It was tough one today.”
Smith doesn’t plan to give up the offensive play-calling or make any staff adjustments.
“No, I’m not making any staff adjustments,” Smith said. “I know those are natural questions, but we’ve got the right guys in there. We look at everything every week and find a way to get these wins. …this is what happens when you lose a couple in a row, but we’ve got the right people.”
After the bye, the Falcons will host the New Orleans Saints (5-5) at 1 p.m. Sunday, November 26 at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Bow Tie Chronicles