Cardinals vs. Falcons: Atlanta's Biggest Winners and Losers from Week 11
As has been the teams' theme throughout the season, the Atlanta Falcons (9-1) played to their opponents' level Sunday, squeaking out a sloppy 23-19 win over the Arizona Cardinals (4-6) on a day in which they turned the ball over six times.
It came down to the final minutes yet again for the Falcons, who were down 19-16 entering the fourth quarter.
But they eventually found their rhythm on offense, capping off a late 70-yard drive with a 1-yard Michael Turner touchdown for their first offensive touchdown of the day, and ultimately the game's last of the day.
There were winner and losers aplenty in this one. Here's a look at the biggest ones for the Falcons.
Loser: Matt Ryan
It's not often a game's winning quarterback is also a loser on the day.
But there's no question that was the case for Matt Ryan on Sunday.
The Falcons signal-caller, who had performed at an MVP level for most of his nine previous games, got off to the worst start in his career against the Cardinals, throwing three first-quarter interceptions. He went on to finish 28-of-46 for 301 yards and five total interceptions on the afternoon.
Ryan played more like a rookie than a fifth-year veteran for most of the day, making ill-advised audibles trying to force a number of plays and having pass after pass batted down, very uncharacteristic for the 6'4" quarterback.
Ryan walked off the field a winner in the books, but he knows it was in spite of his play, not because of it.
Winner: Robert McClain
Perhaps the Falcons' most pleasant surprise on defense this season, cornerback Robert McClain stepped up big when called upon Sunday.
Replacing an injured Asante Samuel for much of the afternoon, the third-year pro found himself lining up against Larry Fitzgerald often throughout the game. He denied him virtually every time, including once on a key deep pass in which he found himself one-on-one with no help over the top.
McClain made his presence felt in the run game as well, proving to be one of the surest tacklers with seven total on a day the rest of the defense struggled to do the same.
Loser: Offensive Line
Falcons starting center Todd McClure adamantly defended himself and the rest of the team's offensive line after last week's disappointing loss to the New Orleans Saints.
It's highly unlikely he'll do the same after Sunday's performance, which consisted of a McClure false start, Sam Baker often looking lost, linemen getting easily beaten by simple stunts and, as usual, the entire line being unable to generate enough push in 3ird-and-short situations.
The offensive line was the Falcons' weakest link on offense in last January's brutal 24-2 playoff loss. It continues to be as such so far this season, and it's difficult to see the Falcons making a deep playoff run if they can't change that around.
Winner: John Abraham
As he has done all year, John Abraham made a much-needed game-changing play Sunday, blowing past rookie tackle Nate Potter to knock the ball out of quarterback Ryan Lindley's hand for a fumble that would be recovered and taken to the house by teammate Johnathan Babineaux midway through the second quarter.
Abraham abused Potter all afternoon long, finishing with three solo tackles, two assisted, two sacks and many other quarterback pressures to go along with his forced fumble.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff's decision to bring back the aging defensive end for yet another season keeps looking better and better game after game, and it can easily be said the Falcons would not be standing tall at 9-1 if not for Abraham.
Loser: Defensive Ends Not Named John Abraham
John Abraham came to play, but the rest of Atlanta's defensive ends didn't.
Coming off the heels of Ray Edwards' release this past week, Sunday's game was a golden opportunity for the Falcons' younger defensive ends to fill that void.
Instead, they came up empty against an offensive line that had given up a league-high 41 sacks coming into Week 11.
Atop the list of underwhelming performers is Kroy Biermann, who, after officially becoming the starter at left defensive end in Edwards' place, finished with just two solo tackles and one assisted tackle despite facing a rookie right tackle in Bobbie Massie.
At this point in the season, it goes without saying that the Falcons need their other defensive ends to step up.
Despite the defensive line's woes, as a whole, it's clear the main reason Atlanta came away victorious in this game was the defense.
On a day the Falcons offense turned the ball over four times in its own territory, the team's defense kept the Cardinals out of the end zone each time but one, holding Arizona to just 19 points total while scoring seven of its own.
While doing so against a rookie third-string quarterback on a team coming off a five-game losing streak isn't exactly the most amazing feat, that doesn't take away from the fact that the Falcons' banged-up defense stepped up big when called upon.