The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s D. Orlando Ledbetter tells CineSport’s Brian Clark how the Falcons made a statement in their 39-28 win over the Dallas Cowboys, a game that saw Devonta Freeman score three touchdowns and amassed 193 total yards.
ARLINGTON, Tex. – The Falcons stormed back with 25 unanswered second-half points to pull out a 39-28 victory over the Dallas Cowboys to improve to 3-0 on Sunday at AT&T Stadium.
In the process, the Falcons became the first team in NFL history to start a season 3-0 after trailing in the fourth quarter of each game.
The Falcons trailed the Eagles, 24-23, in the fourth quarter before winning, 26-24. They trailed the New York Giants, 20-10, before winning 24-20. They trailed the Cowboys, 28-25, in the fourth quarter before storming to victory.
It’s the Falcons best start since they opened the 2012 season by going 8-0.
Here are the grades from the win.
Game balls: Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones. Freeman, making his first NFL start, amassed 193 total yards and scored three touchdowns. He was dazzling as he ran with authority on 30 carries. He also caught five passes for 52 yards. Jones was moved around in various formations and finished with 12 catches for 164 yards and two touchdowns.
Quarterbacks, A-plus. Matt Ryan completed 24 of 36 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns. He finished with a passer rating of 109.1. His job was made easier by having a solid rushing attack for the first time in nearly three seasons. He completed passes to seven receivers and had explosive plays of 45, 35 and 21 yards in the passing game. Ryan has now lead the Falcons on 23 fourth-quarter comebacks and 30 game-winning drives.
Running backs, A-plus. With Tevin Coleman out with a fractured rib, Freeman had 30 carries for 141 yards and three touchdowns. He also caught all five of his targets for 52 yards as a receiver. In the first half, Freeman had 12 carries for 52 yards and 18 for 89 yards in the second half. He said that he’s a rhythm running and he got stronger as the game went on. He ran with power and authority. Freeman’s three rushing touchdowns marked the first time a Falcon running back has rushed for three touchdowns since running back Michael Turner accomplished the feat in 2010. Additionally his 141 rushing yards were the most by a Falcons running back since Turner rushed for 172 yards in Week 17 of the 2011 season.
Wide receivers/tight ends, A-plus. Jones turned in another stellar performance. He caught three of eight targets for 27 yards in the first half. He caught 9 of 12 targets in the second half and scored two touchdowns. Ryan took the blame for Jones’ low production in the first half. He cited accuracy issues. But once Jones got rolling, the Cowboys didn’t have an answer for him. His 34 catches through three games is the most-ever in NFL history. Leonard Hankerson caught three of his six targets for 45 yards. Roddy White didn’t catch a pass for the second consecutive game after catching at least one pass in 130 straight games. Tight end Jacob Tamme left the game with a concussion. Levine Toilolo filled in and caught a key two-point conversion to help pull the Falcons within striking distance, 28-25.
Offensive line, A-plus. The unit hadn’t opened up many holes in the rushing attack this season. Against a weaken Cowboy front they created some room for Freeman to do some major damage. The Falcons averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked once.
Defensive line, B-minus. The line got pushed around in the first half as the Cowboys rushed for 131 yards on 16 carries. The group picked up the pace in the second half and held the Cowboys to minus-4 yards rushing. Also, defensive end Vic Beasley came up with a key sack in the fourth quarter. Adrian Clayborn also had a sack. The Falcons added three quarterback hits from Beasley, Clayborn and linebacker Nate Stupar.
Linebackers, B. Linebackers Paul Worrilow and Justin Durant got off to a slow start. Worrilow, who was playing with a calf injury, played all 54 snaps. Durant led the team with nine tackles. Worrilow added five tackles.
Defensive backs, A. The secondary wasn’t challenged much as Dallas quarterback Brandon Weeden stayed away from throwing the ball down the field after a second-quarter interception by safety William Moore. Nickel back Phillips Adams is quietly turning in a strong season. Free safety Ricardo Allen left the game with a knee injury, but he returned to the action. He finished with seven tackles, but missed at least one tackle during Dallas’ early onslaught.
Special teams, A. Punter Matt Bosher averaged 51.3 yards on five punts and had a net average of 45.3. Matt Bryant had a big 32-yard field goal at the second quarter buzzer. The kickoff coverage team gave up a 28-yard return to Lance Dunbar. The Cowboys averaged 8 yards on three punt returns.
Coaching, A. The coaching staff must be lauded for their halftime adjustments. They came up with a plan to shut down the Cowboys rushing attack. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan moved Julio Jones around to get him open. Jones called Shanahan, “a genius” after the game. He even had Jones line up a running back on one play.
Next up: Houston Texans (1-2) at the Falcons (3-0) at 1 p.m. on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
COWBOYS GAME COVERAGE — Falcons 39, Cowboys 28