Arizona Cardinals inside linebacker Karlos Dansby (56) tackles Atlanta Falcons running back Jacquizz Rodgers (32) during the first half at University of Phoenix Stadium. (USA TODAY Sports: Matt Kartozian)
The Atlanta Falcons were outgained by the surprising Arizona Cardinals, 348 yards to 292 on the way to being trampled, 27-13 Sunday.
The Cardinals held the Falcons to 27 yards rushing on 14 carries and turned little-known running back Andre Ellington lose for 154 yards on 15 carries, including an 80 yard touchdown.
The Falcons (2-5) lost for the fourth time in five games, further distancing themselves from any thought of returning to the playoffs after reaching the NFC Championship Game last season.
The Cardinals intercepted Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan four times, making it look a little reminiscent of last year’s game, when they picked off Ryan five times. Atlanta pulled out that game, 23-19, but not this one.
“We have to continue to dig and dig out of the hole we’re in,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “We did not play very good football today.”
Playing without several regulars because of injuries, including star receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, the Falcons tried to make do with Harry Douglas (12 catches, 121 yards) and veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez (three catches, 26 yards).
It clearly wasn’t enough on a day when Cardinals perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald become the youngest player to reach 800 career receptions. He set the record with a 17-yard catch at the end of the third quarter, reaching the 800 milestone at 30 years, 57 days.
Ryan completed 34 of 61 passes for 301 yards. The four interceptions were one more than he had all season coming into this game.
“I can’t do it,” Ryan said of the interceptions. “You can’t make those plays and expect your team to win. You can’t make those plays and think you’re giving your team a chance to win. I have to clean those up. I’ve got to find a way to make sure those don’t happen again.”
In addition to picking him off, the Cardinals also supplied a fair amount of pressure on Ryan, sacking him four times and hitting him on at least a dozen other plays. John Abraham, the NFL’s all-time sack leader among active players, had one of the sacks against his former team.
Abraham left the game in the fourth quarter after taking a hit to the head and did not return. He said he passed concussion tests after the game and that he was fine.
NFL Team Report - Atlanta Falcons - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
What we learned:
QB Matt Ryan is hurting badly without his top two wide receivers, Julio Jones and Roddy White.
Harry Douglas stepped up with a huge game (12 catches, 121 yards), but there just wasn’t enough help elsewhere amongst the receivers to turn a short catch into a bigger yard-gainer. Tony Gonzalez only had three receptions. He was targeted eight times.
With no running game, the Falcons have zero balance and it allows teams like the Cardinals to come after the quarterback with a fury. That’s what happened on Sunday as Atlanta could only muster 27 total rushing yards. Steven Jackson started the game after missing the previous four with a strained hamstring, but he was completely ineffective, rushing 11 times for just six yards.