By Matthew Asher
In a game that featured two NFC Divisional leaders, it was the "lowly" NFC South (5-7) Atlanta Falcons who thumped the powerful NFC West (9-3) Arizona Cardinals 29-18. This is Atlanta's first win against a non-NFC South divisional opponent and it is Arizona's second-straight loss. Atlanta started off the game strong, putting up 17 points in the first quarter, scored in every quarter and simply refused to let Arizona get back in the game. The lone Cardinal touchdown took place within the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter, when the game was already decided.
If Atlanta does end up making the playoffs this year, this game will probably be the signature win. Detractors can say that because Larry Fitzgerald didn't play in this game, Atlanta was supposed to win, but they need to be reminded that Atlanta went without Roddy White and still out-gained Arizona by nearly 175 yards as Atlanta put up 500 yards of offense against a Cardinals defense that gives up an average of 352 yards.
Julio Jones and Harry Douglas each get an A+
With Roddy White out of the lineup, Jones and Douglas stepped up and took on the extra slack. Matt Ryan finished the game going 30-41 for 361 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Jones and Douglas were responsible for the majority of those stats as this tandem combined for 19 receptions (63 percent) , 305 receiving yards (84 percent) and one touchdown. Julio led the team with 10 catches for 189 yards. He also recorded a receiving touchdown for the second straight game and his longest catch today went for 41 yards. Douglas finished with 9 receptions for 116 yards.
Steven Jackson gets an A
For the first time since joining the Atlanta Falcons, Jackson has eclipsed the century mark on the ground. He finished the game with 18 rushes for 101. A lot of that had to do with the first drive of the game when Jackson broke off a 55-yard run, his longest as a Falcon, en route to an opening drive Falcons touchdown.
Matt Bryant gets an A
Atlanta's placekicker was responsible for 17 of the 29 points. He made all five field goals, with a long of 45-yards, and both PATs. Bryant continues to be clutch when Atlanta needs him. Hopefully this trend will continue for the remainder of the season.
Atlanta's Defense gets an A
The Falcons defense may have surrendered more than 300 yards of offense, but they made the stops when it counted. Arizona went 1-7 on third down conversions. Drew Stanton may have thrown for 294 yards but he was picked off twice and Michael Floyd also turned the ball over on a fumble. When you remember the one Arizona touchdown came in the final 2 minutes of the game and the other touchdown took place on a turnover, the strength of the defense becomes much more obvious.
Matt Ryan gets a C
Yes, Ryan did throw for more than 350 yards and two touchdowns, but his one interception was a big one. Atlanta was leading 17-0 in the second quarter when Rashad Johnson stepped in front of a Ryan pass and took it 88 yards for a touchdown. The Cardinals would cut the lead to 17-10 before Atlanta finally pulled away. It may be nitpicking, but in the postseason every problem is magnified.
The rest of the season isn't going to get any easier for the Falcons. They will leave the friendly confines of the Georgia Dome and head up to the Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field as they take on the Green Bay Packers for Monday Night Football. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 pm ET. #RiseUp
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Matthew Asher is a freelance journalist. From an early age, sports have played a major role in his life. He graduated from Emory University with a B.A. in Journalism. After college he spent 2 years working with CNN Sports and still occasionally writes sports articles for several publications both in the United States and Canada. His work can be found on Examiner.com.
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