A must-win game. Our Super Bowl. You heard phrases like that in the week leading up to the Atlanta Falcons’ matchup in the desert against the Arizona Cardinals, but too often on Sunday, you didn’t see the evidence that those words had been uttered. Instead, we got an effort where the Falcons couldn’t or wouldn’t gin up much of a passing attack and wilted after a pair of first half scoring drives, setting up an Arizona win.
This was a game that featured missed tackles, coverage lapses, punt return nightmares, unfortunate sacks, an injury to Taylor Heinicke, a trip on a crucial fourth down keeper, and what seemed like a dozen ill-timed holding penalties for Atlanta. The same errors of execution and same questionable decisions—do you really want the run to set up a third and long over and over again—were the story of this game for Atlanta.
It’s a shame because there were big moments throughout this one that gave you sparks of hope, from a quick touchdown from Taylor Heinicke to Scotty Miller to a pretty Bijan Robinson touchdown run to a Ridder scoring scramble to a Nate Landman interception. All of that just didn’t matter in the end, with the Falcons falling down on defense up a single point after a missed two point conversion and watching Arizona bang home a short, easy field goal for the win. The Falcons fall to 4-6 and, while far from out of the NFC South picture, have all the same lingering questions without the benefit of a record of .500 or better. This team need something the bye week somehow has to provide, but I have no idea how they’re going to dig out of this one.
Here’s the drive-by-drive recap of the game you just finished watching.
The start of the game featured a long return from Greg Dortch in terms of time, but not yardage, as he wound up at the 20 yard line. Kyler Murray’s first pass with a man in his face was high to Hollywood Brown. James Conner went absolutely nowhere on second down. On third down, Bud Dupree chased Murray out of the pocket and he threw it away. Punt.
Bijan Robinson took the punt for a few yards, and his first down carry went for a couple of yards. Robinson then made one nice move but ran into a defender right after, picking up three yards. Taylor Heinicke’s third down pass was awful and nearly picked off. Punt, and Bradley Pinion landed it inside the 5.
Murray got it out to Trey McBride, who made it about five yards before Kaden Elliss took him down. Conner got the corner and picked up 11 yards on second down. Conner got about a yard on first down, and then A.J. Terrell broke up a nice throw from Murray to some guy I heard of for the first time. Murray then found Rondale Moore for eight yards, putting the Cardinals at 4th and 1. Conner took it on fourth down and picked it up. Murray then hit Geoff Swain for about six yards, and then hit McBride for another ten yards. A delay of game moved the Cardinals back five yards. Conner got three yards on first down and 15, and then Murray lobbed one to the sideline that McBride reeled in. Then Michael Wilson got another 15 or so yards, setting the Cardinals up in scoring range. A false start on the Cardinals backed them up five yards, and then a pass to Wilson went nowhere thanks to tight coverage from Terrell. Murray scrambled on first down to pick up close to a first down, but a holding call on the Cardinals wiped that one out. His second down pass was deflected by Timothy Horne, and then on third down Kentavius Street got a finger on the ball to send it tumbling to the turf. Matt Prater was good from 50-plus. 3-0 Cardinals.
On first down, Heinicke rolled out and hit Kyle Pitts for eight yards. Tyler Allgeier lowered his head and picked up about five yards to get the first. Heinicke then throws one a little high to Robinson, who reeled it in but couldn’t keep hold of it while getting hit. On second down, Cordarrelle Patterson picked up a couple of yards. Heinicke’s third down pass was tipped by Budda Baker, but a roughing the passer call when Heinicke got shoved to the turf got the Falcons a first down. Robinson picked up close to four yards, and then got some daylight on the next carry for 17 yards. Allgeier then hopped along with a guy attached to his ankle and picked up close to eight yards, but on the next play he couldn’t get any room and lost a yard. Robinson finished up the quarter by taking advantage of quality blocking for about 10 yards.
Robinson got nowhere on first down, and a holding call made that first down worse. Robinson got a couple of yards or so on first down and 15, and then Heinicke escaped pressure and scrambled to pick up close to 12 yards. On the next play, he hit a wide open Scotty Miller for a touchdown to finish off a productive drive. 7-3 Falcons.
McBride picked up 28 yards on first down after breaking a tackle and getting wide open. Keontay Ingram got a yard on first down. I had to answer my front door, but pass interference and a couple of stops led to 3rd and 3, but Murray’s end zone shot was not caught by Hollywood Brown despite a superlative effort by the open receiver, who blew past Clark Phillips. 7-6 Falcons after a Prater field goal.
A quick screen to Patterson went for two after he slipped. On second down, he powered for about five yards. Another run for Patterson picked up a first down. On the next play, a quick throw to Robinson got 11. Robinson then got a couple of yards, and then Heinicke hit London on the sideline for a first down. Allgeier got about four yards, and then a couple of yards on second down. Heinicke tried for it on third down to Jonnu Smith, and while it was way over his head, it drew the illegal contact penalty and kept the Falcons moving. Robinson took it about three yards, and a holding call on the Cardinals gave the Falcons yet another first down. Heinicke was under pressure early, spun and threw it into the turf to evade the sack. A bobbled snap sent Heinicke panicking a little bit, but he was able to throw it away. On third down, a hole opened up in the middle of the defense and Heinicke took full advantage, scrambling for 16 yards. On the next play, Robinson bounced it outside and scored an easy touchdown. 14-6 Falcons.
Conner ran for six yards on first down, and then Rondale Moore reeled in a first down grab. Brown beat Jessie Bates for 28 yards. Conner then took a pitch for nine yards, and then was swallowed up by Albert Huggins for no gain. On third down, though, he was able to slide through for a first down. A quick pass picked up seven yards, and with the clock ticking below 30 seconds, a penalty backed Arizona up. Murray came up just short of a first down with his scramble, but on third down, he faked a handoff to Conner and the Falcons bit hard while Murray ran it in. Falcons 14-Cardinals 12 after Arizona’s two point conversion was blown up by Lorenzo Carter.
The Falcons kneeled out the half.
Bijan Robinson kicked things off for us with a four yard gain. Taylor Heinicke then threw one to Kyle Pitts that was pretty risky, but still nearly found its way into his hands. Heinicke had no chance on third down, but he rolled away and managed to get rid of it. Punt, and unfortunately there was a weak one. Fortunately, a penalty backed Arizona up ten more yards.
Moore picked up five or six yards on first down. McBride then scooped up a first down catch, and Conner took it seven yards on first down. McBride picked up the first down, and then McBride picked up another first down. On the next play, Murray scrambled for several yards after he couldn’t find an open man, but a holding call erased that. Keontay Ingram picked up three yards, but a holding call on the Cardinals again backed them up yet again. On first down, Elijah Higgins just dropped a deep pass from Murray, even though he was wide open. Murray then got away and looked for Moore after scrambling seemingly forever, but the pass wasn’t complete. The third down pass to Moore gained 12, but that set up a long field goal try for Prater, who inevitably hit it. Cardinals 15-14.
Bijan pivoted this way and that and got four yards on first down. He followed that up with another three or four yards on second down, but a holding call on Kaleb McGary backed things up for Atlanta. On the next play, Heinicke hung in a little too long and couldn’t get away from B.J. Ojulari, losing 11 yards on the play. On third down, Heinicke threw it to Pitts for 17, but it was 3rd and 25, so that was well short. Punt.
Murray threw it right to Nate Landman, and to the linebacker’s credit, he made the most of his opportunity. He picked it off and returned it 28 yards, setting the Falcons up inside the red zone. A huge play for the second-year linebacker.
Tyler Allgeier took it four yards on first down, but then Robinson was tripped up after no gain. On third down, Heinicke tried to get away from pressure and could not, even though the Falcons were called for a hold on the play. That set up an easy field goal for Younghoe Koo, who drilled it. Falcons 17-15.
Conner was eaten alive on first down, with Kaden Elliss blowing up the play. Elliss blew into the backfield and took down Murray for a sack. On third down, Tony Jones Jr. took it for about 13 yards, but that was five yards short of a first down. Punt.
Jonnu Smith went nowhere after a first down catch, and on second down, Allgeier ran into a defender and picked up maybe a yard. The Cardinals then sacked Heinicke on third down again. Punt, and the subsequent return saw Greg Dortch break multiple tackles and return it 49 yards.
Murray picked up six yards on a scramble, and then a throw to Michael Wilson went for a touchdown after A.J. Terrell missed a tackle and Kaden Elliss was dragged into the end zone. A review found Wilson was down just shy, but a tush push with Clayton Tune under center got the job done on the next play. 22-17 Cardinals.
The third quarter ended with Heinicke finding Allgeier for about seven yards.
On second down, Robinson picked up five or so to get a first down. The next play saw Heinicke throw low, and Jonnu Smith wasn’t able to dig it out. On second down, Heinicke scrambled and dove for about eight yards, but he came up limping and then went down on the turf, going to the sideline and exiting the game for Desmond Ridder. Ridder immediately handed off, and Robinson was just shy of a first down. Ridder kept it, dove forward, and picked up the first. Ridder then tucked it and pickedd up about seven yards on the scramble, but a holding call on the Falcons backed it up. Ridder slung it to Kyle Pitts for about seven yards, and then hit Drake London for a first down on a sharp ball. Robinson was tripped up after a yard, and the second down throw was in the direction of London but not particularly close to him. On third down, the Falcons boldly handed it off to Robinson, who somehow took it nine yards for a first down. He then took it two yards on first down, with Ridder hitting Patterson for five yards on the next play. On third down, Robinson took it just a couple of feet shy of the first down. Ridder kept it on fourth down, but he tripped and came jup just shy of the first. Turnover on downs.
Conner immediately plowed ahead for a first down. He was then swallowed up after a one yard gain on first down, and then pressure came in and forced a quick throw that Clark Phillips was able to break up. On third down, Nate Landman blew into the backfield for a sack on Murray, forcing a Cardinals punt.
A couple yards on the first down run for Atlanta, with an injury to another Cardinals defender on the same play. On second down, Ridder fired one deep toward Van Jefferson, but it was just too far away for either Jefferson or Budda Baker to get to. Drake London reeled in a third down ball, however, on an incredible one-handed grab to get a first down. Robinson then took it for eleven yards on first down before picking up another couple of yards on second down. Ridder then went for the deep ball down the sideline to London and nearly got it, but he did get the pass interference call to move the Falcons up inside the red zone. Allgeier got four yards on first down, and then the falcons got another three or so yards on second down to set up third and three yards. Ridder faked out Arizona and rolled into the end zone for a touchdown, yet another nice rushing score for him. The two point conversion did not work out, however, as London caught it just shy of the end zone. 23-22 Falcons.
Murray found Moore for eight yards, with Landman coming up with the tackle. Conner then picked up a first down and about ten yards to take us to the two minute warning. On first down, Murray tried it against Terrell, who had tight coverage to lead to an incomplete. On second down, Moore was working against Phillips, but tight work by Phillips prevented the completion. On third down, Murray somehow got away from pressure and scrambled for a first down, with nobody picking him up until it was too late. Murray kept it and was tripped up after a couple of yards. Then Murray went deep to McBride, who reeled it in inside the red zone to effectively end the game. Conner then ran it about six yards before going down, and the Cardinals were able to set up a short field goal try for Prater as time expired. He hit, and the Cardinals won 25-23.