If there’s one thing about the Falcons in the 2012 season you can say about them – they don’t usually win pretty.
Again on Sunday, the team clearly didn’t play their best, and had to overcome five interceptions from Matt Ryan to top the Cardinals 23-19.
Michael Turner scored the winning touchdown on a 1-yard run with 6:40 remaining, and Larry Fitzgerald couldn’t hang on to a fourth-down pass that would’ve given the Cardinals a shot to pull out the win.
”You can’t worry about it,” said Ryan. ”Part of playing this position is knowing there are going to be times when you make mistakes, when you fall flat on your face. You’ve got to get up and keep playing, keep throwing it. In those kind of situations, I’m just worried about the next play.”
Ryan became the first quarterback since Green Bay’s Bart Starr in 1967 to win a game despite throwing five interceptions with no touchdowns, according to STATS LLC.
”That’s good company to be in,” Ryan said with a chuckle.
The Falcons gave the ball up six times, but became the only team in the NFC to reach nine wins this season with just one setback.
Ryan set up Turner’s winning run with four completions for 64 yards, including a 9-yarder to Tony Gonzalez that was just short of the end zone. Turner scored on the next play.
Coming off a bye, Arizona (4-6) lost its sixth straight game. The Cardinals tried to bolster their anemic offense by switching quarterbacks, replacing John Skelton with rookie Ryan Lindley, but they had only 178 yards.
”We said during the bye week we were going to make changes that we thought necessary, and that’s what we’re going to do going forward,” Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said. ”We have to make more plays.”
Both teams struggled offensively in the second half. The Cardinals had the only points – going ahead 19-16 on Jay Feely’s fourth field goal of the game, set up by Ryan’s fourth interception – before the Falcons finally came alive on a 70-yard drive.
With Julio Jones sidelined by an ankle injury, Ryan completed an 11-yard pass to third receiver Harry Douglas, then a 26-yarder to Douglas into Arizona territory.
Roddy White hauled in an 18-yard pass before Ryan, on third-and-5 at the Arizona 10, went to ol’ reliable. Gonzalez grabbed the pass and stretched for the goal line, getting his helmet knocked off in the process.
The officials ruled him down about a foot short. Turner carried it in from there, standing defiantly in the end zone in front of the cheering Atlanta fans who had booed him earlier for the Falcons’ continuing problems running the ball.
Arizona had one more chance, after Ryan had a pass deflected at the line, the ball wobbling into the arms of Cardinals linebacker Sam Acho at the Falcons 32.
On fourth-and-2 with just over 3 minutes remaining, Lindley threw a pass that Fitzgerald appeared to haul in at the 5 before tumbling out of bounds. But as he took a hit from William Moore, Fitzgerald rolled over and the ball came loose. The Falcons took over and ran out the clock.
Ryan completed 28 of 48 for 301 yards.
LaRod Stephens-Howling accounted for most of Arizona’s yards, carrying 22 times for 127 yards. Lindley was 9 of 20 for 64 yards. Skelton was benched in the second quarter after going 2 of 7 for 6 yards.
”It’s extremely frustrating,” Cardinals center Lyle Sendlein said. ”If you would have told us yesterday we’d get the ball four or five times on their side of the 50, I’d have said, ‘Yeah, we’re going to beat them, and beat them by a large margin.”
The turnover tone was set on the very first snap.
Ryan threw a little behind White, the ball bouncing off his hands and right into the arms of Arizona safety Rashad Johnson for the interception. He returned it to the Atlanta 9, and the Cardinals punched it in two plays later on a 3-yard run by Stephens-Howling.
On Arizona’s next possession, Stephens-Howling broke off a 40-yard run to set up Feely’s 48-yard field goal. The Falcons were down 10-0 before they even gained a yard.
Ryan threw two more interceptions before the first quarter was done, the second of which led to another field goal by Feely to make it 13-0. But the Falcons rallied to tie it up by halftime, coming up with a huge defensive play after the Cardinals brought in Lindley.
As the rookie dropped back to pass on third down, John Abraham came in from the blind side and got his hand on the ball a split-second before Lindley’s arm came forward. While both teams mostly stood around, thinking it was an incomplete pass, Abraham motioned for Jonathan Babineaux to pick up it up. The 300-pound tackle did just that, running 15 yards for a stunning touchdown.
”Multiple players told me they heard a whistle,” Whisenhunt insisted.
With a nod to Gonzalez, Babineaux feigned like was going to dunk the ball over the crossbar, but just flipped it over instead.
Call it a celebratory layup.
”We’re always taught to finish play,” Babineaux said. ”I looked at the ref. I saw him running, so I figured the play was still going.”