Falcons vs. Cowboys: Atlanta's Biggest Winners and Losers from NFL Week 9
With both teams tied 6-6 heading into the fourth quarter, Atlanta eventually got its first lead of the game on a Michael Turner touchdown run with 14:21 left to play. A Matt Bryant field goal made it 16-6 a few minutes later, before the Cowboys came clawing back with a touchdown of their own to get within three.
The Falcons would respond with yet another field goal, giving Romo just 17 seconds to mount a comeback. It wasn't enough time, however, with his last pass going to Felix Jones, who was tackled at Atlanta's 21-yard line as time expired.
Was it Atlanta's prettiest win? Far from it. But facing a Cowboys team that played this game like a must-win situation, the Falcons responded by doing the same to show they mean business this season.
Here's a look at the Falcons' winners and losers from the game.
Loser: Dunta Robinson
Yes, Robinson is part of a defense that held the Cowboys to just one touchdown and 13 points overall.
But he is also part of a defense that surrendered 321 passing yards from Romo, something the Falcons cornerback played a big part in allowing.
Robinson was targeted early and often, giving up first down after first down, including a 65-yard pass on 3rd-and-20.
In run support, Robinson didn't prove to play much better, launching himself toward the ball-carrier instead of wrapping up, a decision that led to multiple missed tackles.
To cap it all off, Robinson also was called for defensive holding on a pass that otherwise would've been intercepted by teammate Thomas DeCoud.
We've seen better from the nine-year veteran.
Winner: Jacquizz Rodgers
A look at Jacquizz Rodgers' stats sheet and you'll see he had three carries for a total of zero yards.
So what exactly is he doing on this list?
Glad you asked.
Rodgers may not have found much success on the ground Sunday night, but he did finish with four catches for 53 yards, the last two of which were crucial to the Falcons' victory.
Rodgers' first key play came with just under four minutes in the game, when he caught a short pass by Ryan on 3rd-and-6 and juked his way for a 31-yard gain.
Faced with another third down mere seconds later, Ryan turned to Rodgers again, who took the ball 11 yards up the field to keep alive what ended up being the game-clinching drive.
It wasn't Rodgers' best overall game of his career, but the second-year pro showed just how valuable a speedy pass-catching running back can be in today's NFL.
Loser: Offensive Line
Sunday's game proved to be much of the same from Atlanta's offensive line.
The big guys up front continued to have difficulty keeping Ryan upright as he was sacked three times, hit five and knocked down four.
But it goes deeper than statistics, as there was a clear miscommunication among the linemen when DeMarcus Ware came off the edge untouched to pummel Ryan into the ground on a blindside hit in the second quarter. Bruce Carter then went ahead and did the same on a similar play later in the game. (EDIT: Ryan has since taken credit for sliding his protection the wrong way on the Ware hit. That doesn't get the line off the hook for its other miscues, however.)
Their day wasn't much better on the ground, as aside from a solid block from Peter Konz on Turner's touchdown run, the line wasn't able to open many running lanes for him and Rodgers to run through.
Granted, this came against the NFL's third-ranked rushing defense, but the Falcons could definitely use much more consistent play from their line.
Winner: Roddy White/Julio Jones
White and Jones were so good, they both deserve to be mentioned in the winner's circle of Sunday's game.
The duo smoked Dallas' vaunted cornerback trio of Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Mike Jenkins all night long, catching a combined 12 passes for 247 yards.
But going unnoticed on the stats sheet is the two receivers' efforts in the running game. White and Jones provided numerous key blocks for Turner on the ground, the biggest of which came on his long 43-yard rumble down the field.
Perhaps deserving a bigger share of the spotlight was White, who led the team in catches and yards with seven and 129, respectively, and broke the team's all-time receptions record in the process.
Neither receiver scored a touchdown in this one, but it's clear the Falcons wouldn't have won without their star wideouts.
Loser: Dominique Franks
When Dominique Franks returned this punt 45 yards in preseason, the Falcons thought they had found their punt returner of the 2012 season.
So far, however, he isn't quite who they expected him to be.
After disappointing performances throughout most of the first seven games of the season, Franks' woes continued against the Cowboys Sunday night.
The third-year pro first displayed poor decision-making when he caught a punt inside his own 5-yard line, taking it just four yards before being met by a host of Cowboys defenders. Fortunately, that one was called back on a penalty.
But he then showed a lack of vision when he returned the ensuing re-kick into a wall of defenders when there might've been a chance to take it outside.
Which leads to one question: When will Harry Douglas get his chance to rekindle some of that 2008 magic?
Winner: Mike Smith
Sunday night against the Cowboys may not have been the big stage critics say the Falcons can't win on, but it was as close as it gets in a regular season match.
Playing on national television against a very talented and desperate Cowboys team that had dominated them the last time they faced off, the Falcons found themselves in a dogfight.
Even with the turnover-prone Romo playing mistake-free football, even with Atlanta's offense struggling the most it has this season, even with all the pressure that comes with being undefeated this late in the season, head coach Mike Smith calmly led his team to yet another hard-earned victory and an 8-0 record.
For that, it's clear there was no greater winner from this one than Smith himself.