In a game that could have huge ramifications on the NFC wild-card race, the Atlanta Falcons got back over .500 with a 27-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn was the star of the show with six sacks and seven hits on Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.
The defending NFC champion Falcons have struggled to find any consistency this season, but their 5-4 record puts them one game behind the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers in the wild-card race.
Atlanta's win also gives it a head-to-head advantage over the Cowboys, whose record dropped to 5-4, with seven games left in the regular season.
Among the reasons Atlanta has been unable to sustain any kind of momentum this season is the performance of reigning NFL MVP Matt Ryan.
Ryan's interception on the Falcons' first drive of the game gave him more in just nine games this season than he had in all of 2016:
It would be virtually impossible for the Falcons to repeat what they did last season, when they led the NFL with 33.8 points per game and their five games with at least 40 points were the second-most in a single season in NFL history, but the main pieces were still in place to be great.
Atlanta entered Week 10 ranked 17th in the NFL with 21.3 points per game. It appeared as though things were going to get worse against the Cowboys when running back Devonta Freeman left in the opening minutes with a concussion.
Third-year running back Tevin Coleman did help the Falcons to absorb Freeman's loss, as he found the end zone late in the first half with a little help from defensive tackle Dontari Poe:
After having a season-low five yards on five carries against the Carolina Panthers last week, Coleman took to his expanded role with 83 yards on 20 carries.
Ryan rebounded from that early pick, which wasn't all his fault since the ball was tipped into the air, with 215 yards and two touchdowns. He engineered a terrific 11-play drive to start the second half that he capped off with a three-yard touchdown pass to Justin Hardy for a 17-7 lead.
The defense also came through against a Dallas offense trying to survive without star running back Ezekiel Elliott, who began serving his six-game suspension after his appeal for an injunction was denied Thursday.
Clayborn, who had two sacks in the first eight games, was in Prescott's face all day and set a Falcons franchise record with his six sacks.
Per ESPN Stats & Info, no player has matched Clayborn's sack total against the Cowboys in the past 10 years:
The Falcons defensive end had three sacks in the first half alone, capped off by this one in which he also forced a fumble:
The Cowboys were playing without All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith due to groin and back injuries, which helped fuel Clayborn's career day. Chaz Green, who has primarily played guard, started in Smith's absence.
After Clayborn recorded his fifth sack of the game early in the fourth quarter, Mike Leslie of WFAA gave credit—or blame—to Green:
Per Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News, Prescott had never seen pressure from an opposing team in his NFL career like he did against the Falcons:
Despite being without Elliott and Smith, Dallas' running game still wasn't a total non-factor. The Cowboys averaged 5.1 yards per rushing attempt, but they only ran a total of 59 plays on offense. They couldn't control the clock and use their ground attack to open up the passing game.
The Cowboys also lost their anchor on defense when linebacker Sean Lee left in the first half with a hamstring injury. He missed two games earlier this season due to a hamstring injury as well.
B/R's Marcus Mosher noted how different Dallas' defense looks without Lee in the middle of things:
After Lee left the game, Atlanta racked up 135 rushing yards against the Cowboys defense. The Falcons had minus-three yards on the ground with Lee on the field.
Coming off three straight wins, the Cowboys will be disappointed by Sunday's blowout loss. The fact they played without three of their best players for nearly the entire game once Lee got hurt helps explain some of their struggles, but that doesn't change Dallas' record or standing in the playoff picture.
Meanwhile, this was the most complete Falcons win since their 34-23 victory in Week 2 against the Green Bay Packers. They still have a long climb in the NFC South with the New Orleans Saints' sitting atop the division at 7-2.
Next week's showdown with the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field will offer a clear picture on where the Falcons stand in the NFC playoff pecking order.