The Atlanta Falcons started this game off in typically frustrating fashion, with a productive Dallas drive stalled not by an interception but by sheer grit, and then an ugly drive that saw Devonta Freeman knocked out of the game and Dallas scoring off a Matt Ryan turnover.
It would be the last time the Cowboys would score in the game.
The Falcons simply dominated after that, with Atlanta scoring 27 unanswered points, dominating on defense against a Cowboys team lacking both Ezekiel Elliott and Tyron Smith. The Falcons got sacks seemingly at will, their cornerbacks did their job, and Dallas never really got the run going outside of Dak Prescott, who fought like hell but couldn’t do it himself. Steve Sarkisian called his best game of the year, arguably, and the Falcons were crisp as hell en route to complete dominance both on the ground (after the half) and through the air (all game). Like I said, utter dominance.
Here’s a drive-by-drive breakdown of the carnage. We can be happy again!
The Cowboys started the game on offense, and the first series really had it all for Atlanta. They picked up a holding call that was negated by a Cowboys holding call, plus an interception by Desmond Trufant wiped out by an offsides on Vic Beasley. The Cowboys had little trouble moving in the immediate aftermath of that, with two nice quick outs to Dez Bryant, even though the Falcons were able to stop Dallas from running the football extremely well. Then Adrian Clayborn took over, sacking Dak Prescott and then hitting him and forcing a throw into the dirt. Dallas punt.
The Falcons’ first drive was an abject disaster. Starting from inside the 10 yard line, the Falcons ran it with Devonta Freeman twice for very little gain, and then Freeman exited the game with a possible concussion. Then Matt Ryan hit Mohamed Sanu a bit high, the ball bounced off his hands, and the Cowboys picked it off.
That gave Dallas the ball with extremely favorable field position, and they capitalized. After a couple of shaky throws, Dak Prescott and company got moving, and Prescott was able to run in Dallas’s first touchdown of the day. It was a dispiriting sequence.
Falcons 0 - Cowboys 7
Julio Jones came up with a difficult catch on the team’s first pass, leaving them with 2nd and 2. The Falcons were able to move the ball pretty well with a mix of effective passes, but they couldn’t get a damn thing going on the ground thanks to terrible run blocking. They eventually stalled out with Matt Bryant juuuust in field goal range, and his attempt went through.
Falcons 3 - Cowboys 7
That ended the first quarter. Dallas got the ball back and got a 30 yard completion in short order, but stalled out thanks to some excellent defense, including Adrian Clayborn’s second sack of the day. Dallas went for it, converted, and had it called back due to a penalty, followed by Eric Saubert getting into the neutral zone on 4th and 18.
The Falcons started off promisingly enough, but things went awry in short order. Matt Ryan absorbed a late hit, there was a missed pass, and then Ryan took a huge sack on 3rd down to back Atlanta way up. They were forced to punt, and Bosher got it to the Dallas 37.
Fortunately, the Cowboys got nailed with an early penalty, and a Dontari Poe sack on third down ended the Dallas drive. The subsequent punt went into the end zone.
Atlanta finally, finally got things moving on their next drive. The Falcons found success (surprise) hitting Julio Jones, Dallas got a costly facemask penalty, and the next thing you knew, Atlanta was in the red zone and threatening to score. A defensive pass interference call on the Cowboys on an end zone strike to Taylor Gabriel got Atlanta close, and a Tevin Coleman plunge that fell just short left them feet away from a score. The Falcons went back to Coleman on the next play and he picked up the touchdown, giving them their first lead of the day.
Falcons 10 - Cowboys 7
Dallas didn’t have much time, and to their credit, they made the most of their opportunities. The Cowboys moved downfield on Dak Prescott runs and crisp passes, but their luck eventually ran out, as the Falcons sacked Prescott and Adrian Clayborn took the ball out of his hands, leading to a fumble. The Falcons took two shots to end the half, and we were on to halftime.
The Falcons came back firing, with a 17 yard Tevin Coleman run and 24 yard Julio Jones catch to get them moving. A Levine Toilolo penalty could have derailed the drive—it was a chintzy one—but Taylor Gabriel got a first down. Gabriel was having his best game of the year to this point and kept going, making a couple of very nice catches on this drive as the Falcons got into the red zone. With a beautiful Matt Ryan laser to Justin Hardy in the back of the end zone, the Falcons were up ten.
Falcons 17 - Cowboys 7
Dallas smartly got three tight ends on the field a lot and ran it down the Falcons’ throats, getting close to the red zone before that approach faltered. Adrian Clayborn’s fourth sack and two straight stops got the Cowboys to fourth down within field goal range. The kicked clanged off the uprights, and the score stayed the same with Atlanta getting the ball back.
Atlanta’s next drive carried a lot of weight, because another score might put the game away. They delivered early, with a brilliant 34 yard gain for Taylor Gabriel and a nice Tevin Coleman run to put them within striking distance.
An Austin Hooper dive that brought them close to the end zone and then a fake handoff that turned into a short Hooper touchdown grab put them up big.
Falcons 24 - Cowboys 7
The Cowboys couldn’t do anything on their next drive, with Dak Prescott getting sacked for a fifth time by Adrian Clayborn.
The Falcons, meanwhile, drove down the field effectively thanks to a suddenly dominant ground game, getting close before stalling out and ceding things to Matt Bryant, who hit the chipshot.
Falcons 27 - Cowboys 7
The Cowboys couldn’t do anything, yet again, and Brooks Reed sacked Dak Prescott on fourth down despite a holding penalty on Dallas. Punt.
The Falcons ran the ball three straight times just to chew up the clock. Punt.
Adrian Clayborn got his sixth sack of the night on a strip of Dak Prescott that Takk McKinley picked up, and Atlanta had the ball again. A truly historic night for Clayborn.
The Falcons just set about running down the clock. They got to 4th and 14 with some nice runs—Coleman scored, but holding brought it back—and the Falcons sealed it up.
Dallas ran it a couple of times and it was over.