Brent Maher drove a stake through the Falcons’ heart on Sunday.
The Cowboys kicker made a 42-yard field goal at the buzzer to lift Dallas to a 22-19 victory over Atlanta at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The win came after the Falcons tied the game with less than two minutes remaining.
“It’s tough,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “Great catch by Julio (Jones) in that situation to tie the ball game up. We felt like our defense was going to get the stop and we were going to have an opportunity. Today just wasn’t our day. ... That’s how it goes some time.”
The Falcons have backed themselves into a corner. If they are going to make it to the playoffs for a third consecutive season, they’ll likely need to win all of their remaining games. The Falcons dropped to 4-6. The Cowboys, one of the team’s vying against the Falcons for an NFC playoff spot, improved to 5-5.
“Ain’t nothing to say,” defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “Some times we talk too much. It ain’t nothing to say, but go back to work.”
The Falcons moved the ball, but had to settle for four field goals before the late game-tying touchdown. The Cowboys scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter before the game-winning kick. The Falcons rallied, but the defense couldn’t keep the Cowboys out of field goal range.
The Cowboys overcame a dropped touchdown pass and missed extra point attempt by Maher in the victory.
Here are the five things we learned from the loss:
1. Cowboys attacked Ryan: The Cowboys got some heat on Ryan in the first half. The offensive line gave up three sacks and nine quarterbacks hits in the first half.
Right tackle Ryan Schraeder had a difficult time with Demarcus Lawrence, who had one sack and shared half of another sack with Tyrone Crawford. Randy Gregory also had a sack.
They went sackless and hitless in the second half.
“I thought our offensive line did a great job of adjusting in the second half to what Dallas was doing,” Ryan said. “I thought they played well and battled.”
Rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley had a costly bobbled pass in the fourth quarter. Ryan’s pass popped up off Ridley’s hands and was intercepted by Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch.
Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott had a 23-yard touchdown run through the middle of the Falcons defense to give them a 19-9 lead with 12:26 to play.
Cowboys fans were upset when the team drafted Vander Esch. They wanted Ridley.
The Falcons rallied with a field goal and a 34-yard touchdown pass to Jones with 1:52 left to play.
“Across the board, we just needed to play a little bit better in the first half,” Ryan said. “Were we able to convert some of those third downs and keep drives going, that could have been a different first half. From that standpoint we needed to do a better job.”
2. Beasley gets loose: Falcons defensive end Vic Beasley, who had just one sack on the season, had two against the Cowboys.
He sacked Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott on third-and-4 from the Dallas 29-yard line with 5:32 left in the second quarter. The sacked forced the Cowboys to punt.
The offense put together a 10-play, 33 yard drive. Matt Bryant made a 45-yard field goal to put up the Falcons up 6-3.
Beasley picked up his second sack in the third quarter, but Dallas made a field goal to tie the game 6-6.
Beasley’s sacks ended an six-game drought. He had one sack against the Saints on Sept. 23.
After his second sack, the elated Beasley did a high-five jump with defensive tackle Terrell McClain.
3. Elliott has a big day: After Cleveland rushed for 211 yards against the Falcons, the run defense needed to rebound against Dallas and Elliott.
Elliott had 23 carries for 122 yards and one touchdown. He also caught seven passes for 79 yards.
Elliott entered the game ranked second in the NFL in rushing with 831 yards.
4. Group of seven: Since 1990, there have been seven teams to start the season 4-5 and rebound to make the playoffs.
The 2013 San Diego Chargers were the last team to do when they finished 9-7 to make the playoffs.
The other six teams: 1992 Chargers (11-5), 2002 Jets (9-7) 2003 Packers (10-6), 2008 Chargers (8-8), 2009 Jets (9-7) and the 2011 Broncos (8-8).
Green Bay’s 2016 team rebounded from 4-6 and won the final six game to make the playoffs. The loss in the NFC title game to the Falcons.
5. Injury report: Linebacker Duke Riley (neck), free safety Damontae Kazee (shoulder/elbow) and cornerback Desmond Trufant (thigh/knee) all suffered injuries in the first half, but returned to the game.