Falcons running back Steven Jackson, who eclipsed the 11,000-yard career mark earlier this season, rushed for more than 100 yards for the first time since coming to the franchise.
Jackson rushed 18 times for 101 yards to help the Falcons spring a major upset of the Cardinals on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
Jackson, who was acquired last season in free agency, has struggled to get moving with the Falcons behind revamped offensive lines. Last season, slowed by injury while playing behind a line that was decimated by injuries, his best game was an 84-yard effort against Buffalo on Dec. 1, 2013. Earlier this season, Jackson rushed for 81 yards against Tampa Bay on Nov. 9, 2014.
Jackson was elated that he was able to break a 55-yard run on the fourth snap of the game.
“All week we talked about getting off to a fast start and closing the game out in the fourth quarter,” Jackson said. “It was imperative because the Arizona Cardinals presented a difficult challenge. They have a very good defense.”
The Cardinals entered the game with the league’s third-best rushing defense in league, giving up 84.5 yards per game.
Led by Jackson, the Falcons rushed for a season-high 142 yards on 34 carries. The Falcons had rushed for more than 100 yards in just four other games this season (New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Minnesota and at Tampa Bay).
“Our offensive line did a really good job of creating some holes for not only myself, but for the other running backs,” Jackson said. “Whenever you can be effective running the ball, it allows the offense to be balanced and it allows for the play-calling to be creative and it keeps them honest.”
It was 35 games ago that the Falcons had their last 100-yard rusher. Michael Turner ran for 102 yards on 20 carries against Dallas on Nov. 4, 2012.
“We’re glad to get that out of the way,” Jackson said. “Now, we want to start our own streak being effective runners, not only myself but the other guys in the room with me.”
Hester’s wild return: Devin Hester appeared to score on a 70-yard punt return in the first quarter. Instead, the play was called back on a penalty and another dead-ball flag moved the Falcons back to Arizona’s 32-yard line.
Cardinals punter Drew Butler grabbed Hester near the goal line and the two tumbled into the end zone as officials signaled a touchdown. But Hester was charged with a 15-yard facemask penalty. Special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong drew an unsportsmanlike conduct flag when he ran onto the field to protest.
While it is rare for a facemask penalty to be called against an offensive player, replays appeared to show Butler initially grabbed Hester’s facemask before Hester delivered a stiff arm to break free.
“I didn’t agree with it,” Hester said of the call. “I felt he grabbed my facemask. It was a misread (by) the ref. Several plays later, (officials) admitted that it was the opposite call, wrong call on their part.”
Armstrong erupted at the call and ventured a few yards on to the field to scream at officials. Head coach Mike Smith visibly admonished Armstrong after his penalty.
“We can’t have a penalty on our sideline,” Smith said.
Defensive holding: Falcons defensive tackle Corey Peters was also flagged for an uncommon penalty for his position but he acknowledged that he was guilty as charged.
Peters drew a holding call when he grabbed an offensive lineman in an attempt to prevent him from getting to the linebacker to block on a running play.
“I definitely did it so I can’t complain too much” Peters said. “Just have to do a better job of moving the feet and keeping him in front of me instead of grabbing him.”
White inactive: Falcons wide receiver Roddy White, who suffered an ankle injury last week against Cleveland, and defensive tackle Paul Soliai (non-injury related/death in the family) did not play.
White, who also sat out the third game of the season against Tampa Bay with a hamstring injury, didn’t practice at all last week. He was replaced in the lineup by Harry Douglas, who had nine catches for 116 yards. Defensive tackle Corey Peters took over for Soliai in the starting lineup.
Other inactives included quarterback Sean Renfree, cornerback Robert Alford, linebacker Tyler Starr, tackle Jonathan Scott and defensive lineman James Anderson.
Among others, Arizona was without wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (knee), running back Michael Bush and linebacker Desmond Bishop.
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