After going up 20-0 with 1:36 remaining in the first quarter, Atlanta gave up the lead and one onside kick left everyone inside AT&T Stadium befuddled and confused. They score 39 points. Quarterback Matt Ryan didn’t throw an interception. The Falcons did not turn the ball over. When the dust settled, the Dallas Cowboys walked away with the 40-39 victory. It was a victory in Cowboys’ head coach Mike McCarthy’s home debut. For Falcons head coach Dan Quinn, there were more questions than answers. The preeminent question for Quinn was if his special teams unit if the return team knew they could touch the ball before the ball crosses ten yards.
“Well, I think they definitely know, Quinn explained. “The front three are usually blocking as they’re going and the high bouncers go to the second side. So, the front line, generally on an onside kick, they’re looking to get a block first and the high hop goes to the next player. When that instance happens and it’s not one that’s a high hopper, then you just transfer in and you go to your ball, but you’re looking at your assignment first of who you have to go block – certainly the ball and then your assignment. They definitely know the rule.”
According to Elias Sports Bureau, since 1993, teams were 440-0 when scoring 39 points without a turnover heading into this week’s schedule.
However, the game was not decided on that one play.
In the first quarter, the Falcons were on offense again after a fumble by running back Ezekiel Elliott. On third-and-nine, Matt Ryan had to take off and scramble and had some room to run for the first down. But Aldon Smith was chasing on the play and tackled him for just a 3-yard gain, setting up another field goal. Kicker Younghoe Koo converted on all four of his field-goal attempts on the day.
Also, with the Cowboys trailing 29-17, Atlanta had moved the ball inside Dallas territory. On third-and-two at the Dallas 41 yard line, the Falcons tried a trick play by using receiver Russell Gage in the wildcat formation where he threw it deep to Julio Jones. There was 7:12 remaining in the third quarter. Although Julio Jones beat cornerback Travon Diggs on the play, Jones dropped the pass to set up fourth down. The Falcons kept the offense on the field to go for it, but a penalty for 12 players in the huddle forced them to instead punt the ball back to Dallas.
“Yeah, I don’t know if it was a momentum shift, but one of those examples of when an opportunity – whether it’s on offense or defense or on special teams – it could be in the third quarter, it could be in the fourth, but there are these moments that come up and you pounce, you attack,” said Quinn when asked about the trick play. “When they happen for you, you recognize it, you feel it. When it happens to you, you also have the same emotion, but I think at the end of it, there were a lot of plays in the game you’d like to say, ‘Ok, how would this play out? How did it go?’ But, sometimes, they get highlighted, the ones, but it wasn’t the entire momentum shift, I didn’t think, no.”
On the afternoon, Matt Ryan threw for 273 yards and four touchdowns, two of which went to Calvin Ridley. The former Alabama standout had seven receptions for 109 yards, including the aforementioned two touchdown grabs.
Meanwhile, Dak Prescott threw for 450 yards and one touchdown.
“Credit the offensive line. Two were quarterback sneaks, they allowed me to get in,” Prescott said. “And credit those receivers. They went out there and continued to get open. Yeah sure, I had to find them and I had to make some plays here and there, but that was a team win all the way around.”
The Cowboys outscored the Falcons 30-10, in the second half. Prescott also led the Cowboys on five touchdown drives of 74 or more yards. Elliott ran for 89 yards and one touchdown. Rookie wide receiver CeeDee Lamb had six catches for 106 yards. In all, the Cowboys had 570 yards of total offense and racked up 31 first downs. The Falcons inability to get off the field was a direct contributing factor in this loss.
“I saw the number. It didn’t feel like that, but you look at it and it is what it is,” Quinn explained. “I would say the opportunities – I think we were just – we didn’t make the mark we wanted to on third downs. I thought some drives were able to get extended and I thought a couple of big plays in the second half were definitely a big factor in why those yards crept up like they did.”
21,708 fans attended the game in a socially-distanced fashion.
The Falcons return home to face the Chicago Bears next Sunday at 1:00 PM inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Bears will arrive in Atlanta 2-0 after beating the New York Giants 17-13 at Soldier Field.