A week off sure didn't slow down the Atlanta Falcons' blistering offense.
Matt Ryan threw for 269 yards and two touchdowns, and the Atlanta defense held on for a few critical stops, as the Falcons earned a 38-19 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
Ryan failed to throw for 300 yards for the fourth time in five games, with the Cardinals bracketing Julio Jones and forcing underneath throws. He once again settled in and took what the defense gave him, completing 26 of his 34 passes to extend drives and keep the Cardinals off the field.
Ryan even scrambled four times for 15 yards, which drew this unfortunate comparison from The Falcoholic:
Matt Ryan scrambling like an overweight cat down a flight of stairs— The Falcoholic (@TheFalcoholic) November 27, 2016
Taylor Gabriel was on the receiving end of both Ryan touchdown passes, leading the Falcons with 75 yards on four receptions. Gabriel, Justin Hardy and Mohamed Sanu were left to take over in the passing attack with Jones greatly limited by Arizona's defensive game plan.
Both of Gabriel's scores came on screen plays he broke for big yardage. ESPN Stats & Info highlighted the rarity of his day:
Taylor Gabriel is the 2nd player in last 5 seasons to score twice on screens that each gained 20+ yards (Jamaal Charles, 2013 vs Raiders) pic.twitter.com/K1IyPzNb5m— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 27, 2016
ESPN's Louis Riddick made an astute point:
Taylor Gabriel was waived. By the #Browns. This year.— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) November 27, 2016
Jones was limited to 35 yards on his four receptions, breaking a streak of two straight games over the 100-yard mark. It was the fourth time this season he's been held under 50 yards—a strange bit of inconsistency that has vexed some fantasy owners despite Jones' stellar overall numbers.
Michael Fabiano of NFL Network had perhaps the perfect GIF ready:
Should've started Taylor Gabriel over Julio Jones this week... pic.twitter.com/2xlcjXHDV0— Michael Fabiano (@Michael_Fabiano) November 27, 2016
Devonta Freeman added two touchdowns of his own on the ground, leading the way with 60 yards on his 16 carries. Freeman has scored multiple touchdowns in two of his last four games.
Tevin Coleman also added a rushing touchdown in his return to the lineup after a monthlong absence. He was clearly still limited, however, gaining eight yards on his nine attempts.
The Cardinals weren't offensive slouches by any stretch but still couldn't turn their yards into enough points. Carson Palmer threw for 289 yards and two touchdowns with an interception, marking his fifth straight game with at least one pick. Criticism of Palmer's performance is starting to mount, even from Jeanna Thomas of The Falcoholic:
Carson Palmer was legit the Falcons' best defensive player on that drive— Jeanna (@jeannathomas) November 27, 2016
He spent most of his afternoon dumping balls underneath to David Johnson, who led all players with eight receptions and 103 yards. The Cardinals running back also added 58 yards on 13 carries. A no-doubt-about-it Pro Bowler, Johnson has had 100 total yards in every game this season—the only running back in football who can make such a claim.
Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated put his excellence (and the Cardinals' struggles) into perspective:
Falcons 31— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurke_SI) November 27, 2016
David Johnson and some guys 19
The loss drops Arizona to 4-6-1 on the season, meaning the Cardinals would likely have to win out to make the playoffs. This is a far cry from their near-Super Bowl run a year ago. Palmer has regressed to his turnover-prone ways, and the Cardinals defense isn't making as many stops. Johnson can't carry the team himself.
If things don't pick up soon, Bruce Arians might be headed toward his first losing season as a head coach. The Cardinals host Washington next Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Falcons retain their lead in the NFC South, which could stretch to two games if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lose to the Seattle Seahawks later Sunday. Atlanta hosts the Kansas City Chiefs next week.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn spoke to reporters about Gabriel's performance: "I’m really pleased to see Gabe step up. We felt his presence. We certainly felt his speed. When the other team wants to pressure and play aggressive, that’s one of the weapons you use. Man, did he come up big for us."
Gabriel also talked about what it means to be part of the Falcons, per Andrew Hirsh of the Falcons' official website: "It’s been crazy, man, just to be a part of a winning team and see how much of a brotherhood this is. We’ve come together, man. I love it. I love being here, and I love the opportunity that they gave me to show my talents. So, I’m glad to be here, man."
Arians seemed at a loss with what to do, per Urban: "It’s very frustrating. You have to start with yourself, asking if you are asking guys to do things they can’t do. I don’t think catching the ball is one of them. Blocking someone without help? Maybe. ... That’s again an issue I’ll look at, what are we asking them to do."
Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter.