Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) throws downfield against the Dallas Cowboys during the first half of an NFL game at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, November 12, 2017. File photo by David Tulis/UPI | License Photo
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons hope they have turned their season around after a dominating 27-7 performance against the Dallas Cowboys.
"I don't know," quarterback Matt Ryan said after becoming the fastest quarterback to 40,000 yards passing in league history over 151 games. "I haven't worried too much about it. To me as a player, it came down to not making enough plays (during the 4-4 first half)."
The Falcons played a good half against Green Bay in the second game of the season. The rest of their play was basically average over the first half of the season.
Against Dallas, the defending NFC champions looked like title contenders again.
"It's really that simple," Ryan said. "We made enough plays to get it done, and in order for us to be successful moving forward as players, we've got to make enough plays every week. That's got to be our mindset. Whatever it takes and whatever we've got to do to move forward is what we're going to do."
The Falcons converted on 7 of 13 third downs against the Cowboys. They had been struggling on third downs.
"We were able to use the passing game a little bit, wear those guys out, and convert some third downs to keep us moving," Ryan said. "When we did that, it really opened up the run game."
The Falcons will have to overcome the loss of running back Devonta Freeman, who is in the concussion protocol for the second time this season.
Freeman was in the protocol from Aug. 13 through Aug. 27 during the exhibition season.
Tevin Coleman took over for Freeman and rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown in 20 carries against Dallas.
Ryan credited the offensive line with helping to get the offense back on track.
"I don't know what they were ranked in the league in terms of sacks, but we knew coming into it that they were going to be a really good pass rush to go up against," Ryan said of Dallas' defense. "I thought our guys did a great job. They weathered the storm. It was tough sledding early in that game, but our guys stepped up.
"They didn't blink, and they kept battling. In the second half, I really think they wore that defense down, and that was huge. The reason we were successful today is because those guys battled and played well up front."
After an efficient, 22-of-29 day against Dallas, Ryan went into the league record books with 40,073 passing yards.
The previous league mark was held by Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who accomplished the feat in 152 games. The great Dan Marino -- the legendary Miami Dolphin -- did it in 153 games.
"I've been fortunate to play with a number of great players throughout my nine and a half or 10 years here," said Ryan, who was the third player selected in the 2008 draft out of Boston College. "I have been fortunate to be on some really good teams and to be able to stay healthy. I'm proud of that. I hope that there's another 40,000 in there and I can keep playing for a long time."
Ryan passed for 215 yards and two touchdowns against the Cowboys. He finished with a 104.8 passer rating.
The game also marked the 78th time that Ryan has thrown for multiple touchdowns in a game. He had a three-yard touchdown pass to Justin Hardy in the third quarter to put the Falcons ahead 17-7. He tossed a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Austin Hooper in the fourth quarter to give the Falcons a 24-7 lead.
Ryan also continued his NFL record 64-game streak of passing for 200 yards or more in a game.
Also, he's now thrown a touchdown pass in 27 straight games, which is the longest current streak in the league.
The offense's performance against the Cowboys was perhaps its best of the season.
"I thought we did some nice things offensively," Ryan said. "Whether it's the best or not, it doesn't matter. It was good enough to get the job done."
Falcons running back Devonta Freeman before the bye week had 70 carries for 285 yards and five touchdowns. After the bye week, he has 44 carries for 227 yards and no touchdowns.
Freeman left Sunday's game with a concussion and is in the league's concussion protocol.
With Freeman down, Tevin Coleman (20 carries for 83 yards) and Terron Ward (nine for 23) combined for 106 yards rushing on 29 carries.
"We believe that our entire offense is complementary," quarterback Matt Ryan said. "Whether it be running to set up the pass or throwing to set up the run game for us, we're going to be consistent. We're going to stay balanced. I thought (coordinator) Steve Sarkisian did an excellent job of staying with it when we needed to and got the run game going in the second half."
Defensive end Adrian Clayborn set a franchise record with six sacks against Dallas. Clayborn destroyed backup tackles Chaz Green and Byron Bell on his way to Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott.
In addition to the six sacks, he had seven quarterback hits, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
"He energized the entire organization today," quarterback Matt Ryan said.
The Falcons were 4-4 and in danger of slipping before .500 with Carolina (6-3 prior to Monday night) and New Orleans (7-2) playing well in the NFC South. A loss to Dallas would have be devastating.
"I feel like we now know what we can be," Clayborn said. "We showed proof of that. We have to take it and keep going."
Chuck Smith and Claude Humphrey shared the old team record of five sacks in a game.
"You always envision it, but that doesn't mean it's going to happen," Clayborn said.
He was modest after the game.
"I'm no Everson Griffen or somebody like that; my pass rush isn't as good as (his)," Clayborn said. "But I play the same way every game. It lucked out for me today. I only have one move and it works."
The Cowboys, who were paying without Pro-Bowl left tackle Tyron Smith, tried to give their backup tackles some help.
"They chipped me some and it hurt," Clayborn said. "When they didn't I just took advantage of it."
NOTES: WR Julio Jones caught six passes for 57 yards. ... QB Matt Ryan completed 22 of 29 passes for 215 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception. ... RB Tevin Coleman scored the 11th rushing touchdown of his career. ... WR Mohamed Sanu caught three of his five targets for 29 yards, but had one bounce off his hands and get intercepted. ... LB DeVondre Campbell led the team in tackles with 13, including one for a loss. ... DE Brooks Reed had a sack against Dallas. He has four this season. His career high of six was set in his rookie season in 2011 with Houston.
REPORT CARD VS. COWBOYS
--PASSING OFFENSE: B - Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who was under duress from Dallas defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence early, was efficient. He tossed his eighth interception of the season in the first quarter. He only had seven interceptions last season. He hit wide receiver Mohamed Sanu in the hands and the ball popped up in the air. The pass was intercepted by Dallas cornerback Xavier Woods. Ryan tossed a 3-yard touchdown pass to Justin Hardy in the back of the end zone to finish off a 75-yard drive to start the third quarter. It was the Falcons' first offensive touchdown scored of the season in the third quarter. In order to slow down Dallas' pass rush, the Falcons threw a slew of screens and quick passes. Ryan tossed a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Austin Hooper in the fourth quarter. He moved the ball around to seven different receivers.
--RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus - The Falcons averaged 3.9 yards per carry. They rushed 34 times for 134 yards and one touchdown. Running back Devonta Freeman was popped by Dallas linebacker Anthony Hitchens on the offense's second play of the game. He suffered a concussion and did not return. He spent two weeks in the concussion protocol in the exhibition season. Tevin Coleman took over for Freeman and had a 1-yard touchdown run when he got behind defensive tackle Dontari Poe, who lined up at fullback. Coleman finished with 83 yards on 20 carries. Terron Ward backed up Coleman and finished with 23 yards on nine carries. Fullback Derrick Coleman had two rushes for 8 yards. Wide receiver Taylor Gabriel had 15 yards on a reverse.
--PASS DEFENSE: B-plus - Adrian Clayborn had six sacks and seven quarterback hits as he abused Dallas backup tackle Chaz Green, who was playing for Tyron Smith, out with a back and groin injuries. Brooks Reed and Poe also added sacks. In total, the Falcons had eight sacks and 10 quarterback hits as they made life miserable for Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott. Cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford won their matchups against Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams. Tight end Jason Witten did break loose for seven catches for 59 yards.
--RUSH DEFENSE: B - A week after giving up a season-high 201 yards rushing to Carolina, the Falcons were stout against the run. They held Dallas running backs Alfred Morris and Rod Smith in check. Morris rushed 11 times for 53 yards and Smith rushed three times for 15 yards. Prescott broke loose a couple of times, including an 11-yard touchdown run. The Cowboys rushed for 107 yards on 21 carries. The Cowboys got some late rushes against prevent defenses to help pad their stats.
--SPECIAL TEAMS: B - Matt Bryant made field goals of 50 and 29 yards. Punter and kickoff specialist Matt Bosher was strong and returner Andre Roberts was solid. Bosher had four touchbacks on his six kickoffs. He averaged 42.5 yards on two punts. Dallas tried a fake punt and completed the pass, but wide receiver Brice Butler was called for offensive pass interference.
--COACHING: A - In an important NFC matchup with possible playoff implications, the Falcons were ready to play. It was clearly the first time the team has put together an entire game all season. The Falcons took advantage of the Cowboys missing suspended running back Ezekiel Elliott and injured left tackle Tyron Smith. Good teams take advantage of teams in these situations and the Falcons pounced on the Cowboys. The Falcons, who are chasing the Saints and the Panthers in the NFC South, needed to get the win over the Cowboys to secure the head-to-head playoff tiebreaker. The defense rebounded and the offense clicked with Coleman shouldering the rushing load with Freeman out.