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Falcons 33, Cardinals 34: A heartbreaking loss sends this team spiraling

A brilliant performance by Matt Ryan is wasted yet again.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Arizona Cardinals Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

At 1-4, the Falcons came into this game with no margin for error. If they were going to turn around the season, this was the game to do it. The Cardinals are a rebuilding franchise with a rookie QB and a rookie head coach. Did Atlanta hold off the grim reaper? Let’s take a look at how things played out.

First quarter

The Falcons won the toss and opted to receive the ball to start the game, which seems like a first in the Dan Quinn era. Ito Smith returned the ball to the 20 and on the first play of the game, Matt Ryan connects with Julio Jones for 17 yard and the first down. After a run for 2 yards and a -3 yard pass to Kaleb McGary (yep), Ryan finds Austin Hooper for a 19 yard gain and another first down. Devonta Freeman hits big with a 15 yard run for another first down. After getting to 3rd and 10, two straight offside penalties on the Cardinals gives Atlanta a free first down. Freeman follows that up with a run for 7 yards and the first down conversion immediately after. Ryan finishes the drive with a nice 9 yard pass to Calvin Ridley for the touchdown

Falcons 7 - Cardinals 0

Kyler Murray and the Cardinals start on their own 22 after the kickoff return. A six yard run by David Johnson is quickly followed by a first down pass to Maxx Williams. After a run for loss and a short pass, Murray connects with Trent Sherfield deep down the sidelines for a huge gain. After Murray is forced to run short on 3rd and 7, the Cardinals opt for the field goal, which they convert.

Falcons 7 - Cardinals 3

The Falcons start their second drive with a Devonta Freeman run for 5 yards and a penalty to convert the first down. After two straight penalties, on 1st and 25 Ryan finds Julio for 3 yards. A pass to Austin Hooper sets up 3rd and still a bunch. An incomplete pass to Julio that was juggled brings on the Atlanta punt unit.

Arizona starts their next drive with a hold. On 2nd and 12, Kyler Murray buys time in the pocket and hits Larry Fitzgerald for the big gain and the first down. After a 2-yard run by Johnson and a 7-yard reception by Fitzgerald, Murray sneaks it for the conversion and the end of the first quarter.

Falcons 7, Cardinals 3

Second quarter

On the first play of the quarter, Murray connects with Damiere Byrd for 58 yards. The receiver appeared to fumble the ball, but the refs did not overturn the ruling on review. Cardinals take over on the 1 yard line with first and goal to go. On 3rd and goal, Kyler Murray connects with Chase Edmonds for the touchdown. Cardinals take the lead

Falcons 7, Cardinals 10

A nice return by Ito Smith starts Atlanta on their own 29. After a 5 yard gain to Sanu, and a Freeman run for 3 yards, Matt Ryan is sacked on 3rd down, killing the drive very early. Welp. A nice punt and coverage puts the Cardinals back at their 21 yard line.

The Cardinals start with a 17-yard run by David Johnson. Things are going great. Murray then connects with David Johnson for a 30 yard pass. Chase Edmonds took the quick pass all the way down to setup 1st and goal at the one. David Johnson finishes the drive with the touchdown run.

Falcons 7, Cardinals 17

After a run up the middle on first down with Freeman, and a 12 players in the huddle penalty, Ryan finds Julio for a 13 yard play on 2nd and 17. On 3rd and 4, Ryan finds Julio again to keep the chains moving. On the next play, the Falcons use a flea-flicker to get the ball to Jaeden Graham for a big 21 yard reception. A facemask penalty adds on 15 yards. A 3 yard run by Freeman is followed by a scramble of 6 yards by Ryan. Fullback Keith Smith converts on the next play to keep the drive alive. Two ineffective runs setup 3rd and 7 which is followed by Ryan not finding an open receiver and throwing it away. Matt Bryant punches in the short field goal.

Falcons 10, Cardinals 17

David Johnson kicks off the next drive with a 5 yard run. After a pass to Edmonds to convert the first and a 2 yard run by Johnson, Johnson is stifled for a 2-yard loss before the two minute warning. On 3rd and 8, Murray connects with Larry Fitzgerald to keep the drive alive. Murray scrambles 100 yards for a 2 yard gain on the next play. David Johnson adds on another big run to keep the drive moving. Kyler Murray was nearly unstoppable, finding David Johnson while also running the ball himself. The drive ultimately stalls due to poor time management, but the Cardinals are able to add another 3 before we head to half time.

Falcons 10, Cardinals 20

Third quarter

A nice kick return sets the Cardinals up at their 36 to start the second half. Murray gets the offense to the 50-yard line with a 14-yard carry. After a 2-yard run on 2nd down by David Johnson, Isaiah Oliver gets flagged for illegal contact, giving the free first down. After two straight incomplete passes, on 3rd and 10, the Cardinals setup 4th and 2 after Murray connects with Fitzgerald for 8. Arizona goes for it on fourth down. They convert. Of course. A David Johnson run for 9 yards is followed by a throwback touchdown pass to Maxx Williams for the touchdown.

Falcons 10, Cardinals 27

Devonta Freeman starts the drive with two runs to keep the first downs coming. Austin Hooper keeps the drive alive with a big 14 yard catch. A 2-yard run by Freeman is followed by a short run by Ryan. On 3rd and 7, Ryan can’t connect with Ridley and Matt Bryant comes on to kick the 44-yard field goal. He nails it to prolong the pain.

Falcons 13, Cardinals 27

To start their next drive, Murray connects with Fitzgerald for a 22-yard gain. After a holding penalty sets up 1st and 17, the Falcons miraculously get the stop after limiting the Cardinals at mid-field. It’s a Christmas miracle.

The Falcons offense starts with ... a 2-yard run up the middle by Freeman. Rinse. Repeat. Ryan finds Austin Hooper for a 7-yard gain. Freeman gets a big run off to convert the first down. Ryan again finds Hooper for a 12-yard gain. Ryan against finds Hooper for a 16-yard gain and another first down. Ryan connects with Calvin Ridley for another first down and puts the Falcons in prime scoring position. Freeman converts another first down on a dump-off pass. Russell Gage gets in on the action with a 6-yard reception. On 3rd and 4, Matt Ryan finds Devonta Freeman for the touchdown.

Falcons 20, Cardinals 27

The Cardinals next drive gets them to 3rd and 1 before the quarter comes to and end, mercifully.

Falcons 20, Cardinals 27

Fourth quarter

To start the final quarter, Deion Jones gets the critical stop to force the fourth down. The Cardinals decide to punt for the first time all game. In the fourth quarter. My god.

The Falcons offense takes over on their own 17 with a run by Freeman for 4 yards. After a short pass to Calvin Ridley sets up 3rd and 2, Ryan connects with Julio Jones to keep the sticks moving. Matt Ryan then finds Calvin Ridley for a big 20-yard gain and another first down. Ryan immediately finds Austin Hooper for a big 30-yard gain on the next pass. A hands to the face penalty gives the Falcons another first down at the 9. After a four yard run by Ito Smith, Matt Ryan finds Austin Hooper for the touchdown and a tie game.

Falcons 27, Cardinals 27

The Cardinals respond with a 3-yard pass followed by Isaiah Oliver stopping Murray from breaking free. On 3rd and 5, the Cardinals drive dies as Pharaoh Cooper drops an easy pass for the first down. The first three and out for the Cardinals gives the Falcons life. The Cardinals are forced to punt.

Matt Ryan immediately finds Julio Jones for a 17-yard gain. Devonta runs for no gain on the next first down followed by an incomplete pass to Mohamed Sanu. Unfortunately, the pass rush gets home on the next play as Chandler Jones and Terrell Suggs sack Ryan on 3rd and 10. A terrible penalty on the punt put the Cardinals in prime position.

After a David Johnson run for 3 yards, Murray connects with Maxx Williams to convert the first down. Vic Beasley gets called for a horse-collar tackle to gift Arizona with a free first down. David Johnson gains 5 on the next play. After a throw-away sets up 3rd and 5, Kyler Murray finds David Johnson for the touchdown.

Falcons 27, Cardinals 34

The Falcons offense starts on their 25 with a 15 yard pass to Mohamed Sanu. He then finds Julio Jones for another 22-yard gain. Freeman picks up 9 on the run with 3 tight ends on the field. On 2nd and 1, Freeman picks up 5 yards and converts the first down. Sanu snags the next reception for 9 yards. Ito Smith picks up another first with the 2 yard gain before we hit the two minute warning. The Falcons score on the next play with a screen pass to Devonta Freeman. Unfortunately, Matt Bryant misses the extra point.

Falcons 33, Cardinals 34

With just under 2 minutes left, the Cardinals start with a 5 yard run by Johnson. After a gain of no yards on 2nd down, the Cardinals convert the first down on a run by Kyler Murray. Game. Over.

Final: Falcons 33, Cardinals 34