The Falcons actually looked special.
Behind an opportunistic defense and a spectacular catch by Julio Jones, the Falcons pummeled the Cardinals 40-14 to stop their five-game losing streak on Sunday in a one-third empty Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Falcons improved to 5-9, while the woeful Cardinals dropped to 3-11. Those fans who elected to stay home missed the best showing of the season.
Despite the victory, the Falcons were officially eliminated from the playoffs.
“You make your bed throughout the year,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “Today was a good day for us as a team. But obviously, not playing in the postseason is disappointing.”
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The Falcons converted two interceptions into touchdowns and harassed Cardinals rookie quarterback Josh Rosen for most of the game with a season-high seven sacks, nine quarterback hits and seven pass deflections.
“I thought our identity was clearly on display,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “The turnovers, ball-hawking, defensively, the ability to run the ball, to me, those felt good.”
Ryan completed 22 of 36 passes for 231 yards, two touchdowns and he had a rushing touchdown. He finished with a passer rating of 98.3 before giving way to Matt Schaub to close out the rout in the fourth quarter.
Running back Tevin Coleman was dazzling as he rushed for a career-high 145 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown.
"It was just a lot of energy out there,” Coleman said. “The guys came out with energy. I came out with energy. They got on their blocks and were able to make holes for me."
Here are five things we learned from the win:
1. Lethargic start: The Falcons came out lethargic and were forced to punt after an illegal shift penalty by Coleman that erased 17-yard gain and a first down.
The defense gave up a touchdown drive after linebacker Deion Jones was beaten by Cardinals running back David Johnson for a 40-yard gain on a wheel route. Johnson scored on a 2-run to give Cardinals a 7-0 lead.
Coleman and Jones would more than atone for the early miscues.
2. Pick six for Jones: On the Cardinals’ second possession, defensive end Vic Beasley tipped a Rosen pass. Deion Jones tracked it down in midair and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown.
The play jump-started the Falcons, who never looked back as they ripped off 40 unanswered points.
“That was the momentum kick-starter for us as a team,” Ryan said. “To get the tip and then Deion returned it for a touchdown. Those are awesome. That was awesome to get us going. I felt like the energy really got everybody into it. From that point forward, we played really well.”
Brian Poole intercepted Rosen in the second quarter, which led to Julio Jones’ diving touchdown. Jones suffered a rib injury on the play, but returned to the game.
Julio Jones finished with six catches for 82 yards and the touchdowns.
Cardinals dynamic wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald had seven catches for 82 yards.
3. Coleman breaks loose: On the Falcons’ third offensive possession, Coleman broke around right end for a 65-yard gain.
"We were working that play in practice, and it looked just like it did in practice,” Coleman said. “It was a really good play, a real good block by (wide receiver Mohamed) Sanu."
The run was the Falcons’ longest run since running back Devonta Freeman broke loose for a 75-yard gain against the Saints on Jan. 1, 2017 in the 16th game of the regular season. The Falcons’ longest run this season was Coleman's 36-yarder against the Panthers in Game 2.
In the third quarter, Coleman had a 43-yard run for a touchdown.
It was the Falcons’ best rushing day of the season as the team went over the 200 yard mark for the first time in 2018.
The Falcons had rushed for more than 100 yards in just three games this season, against the Panthers on Sept. 16, against the Redskins on Nov. 4 and the Packers on Dec. 9.
The Falcons rushed 27 times for 215 yards.
4. Sack party: The Falcons previous season-high was four sacks against the Giants on Oct. 22 and Packers on Dec. 9.
“When you have those opportunities to play as a pass-first defense you get more opportunities to go after it,” Quinn said. “I was pleased to see that today.”
Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, who had two sacks, had a sack-strip that was recovered by Poole. Defensive end/linebacker Bruce Irvin had 1.5 sacks.
Vic Beasley, Steven Means and Poole also had a sack. Linebacker De’Vondre Campbell shared a sack with Irvin.
The Cardinals entered the game averaging 242.4 total yards on offense, which was last in the league. The Cardinals, who let quarterback Mike Glennon finish the game, average of 13.7 points per game, which was also last in the league.
The Cardinals, who have also been hit by injuries, were starting their ninth different offensive line combination.
5. Changing of the guard: Zane Beadles started the game at right guard, but Ben Garland came in and finished the game. Beadles took over for Garland two games ago against the Ravens.
Running back Ito Smith (knee) left the game in the third quarter.