Wrap-up: Falcons 23, Cardinals 19
November, 18, 2012
By Mike Sando | ESPN.com
Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 23-19 defeat to the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome on Sunday:
What it means: The Cardinals have now lost six consecutive games following a 4-0 start. This game was a bit like their season. Arizona started quickly thanks to a strong defense, but quarterback issues dragged it down over time. Coach Ken Whisenhunt emphasized accountability during the bye week. He backed it up by benching quarterback John Skelton while the Cardinals held a 13-3 lead. Skelton missed a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald in the end zone as the Cardinals failed to fully capitalize on three first-quarter interceptions off Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. The fact that Arizona picked off five passes and still lost highlighted the team's glaring issues at quarterback.
What I liked: The defense was fantastic and did enough to win this game with only average play from the quarterback position. Defensive end Darnell Dockett was disruptive. He batted one pass to set up an interception. He blew up running plays. The bye week seemed to restore Dockett's health and productivity. William Gay, Kerry Rhodes and Greg Toler had first-quarter interceptions. Inside linebacker Daryl Washington added a fourth pick in the second half. Sam Acho produced a fifth, collecting a pass that bounced off teammate Dan Williams' helmet as Williams leaped to defend the pass. LaRod Stephens-Howling gained 127 yards on 22 rushes. He had 52- and 40-yard runs in the half. The 52-yarder featured a jump cut for the ages. William Powell had a 65-yard kickoff return. Punter Dave Zastudil and the coverage units positively affected field position as the Cardinals jumped to their early lead. Toler made an outstanding effort at throwing a loose ball back inbounds so Arizona could recover for a turnover.
What I didn't like: The quarterback play was horrendous by NFL standards. Skelton had completed 2 of 7 passes for 6 yards when the Cardinals benched him. Rookie Ryan Lindley completed 2 of 7 passes for 18 yards on his first seven attempts. He completed 9 of 20 passes for 64 yards (3.2 per attempt) overall. The Cardinals ran the ball well and have talent at wide receiver. They needed more production from their passing game under the circumstances. The offense wasn't alert enough when the Falcons picked up a loose ball and returned it for a touchdown. The whistle had never blown. Arizona gave away free points on that play. Washington, though outstanding this season, committed a 15-yard penalty after the Cardinals stopped the Falcons on third-and-15. The Cardinals, after holding firm defensively much of the day, gave up a quick touchdown drive to lose the lead late. Fitzgerald could not finish a fourth-and-2 reception in Falcons territory as the team made its final push to retake the lead.
Notable: Minus the one game he had missed thanks to injury, veteran safety Adrian Wilson had played a higher percentage of defensive snaps than any Cardinal other than cornerback Patrick Peterson. Wilson wasn't on the field early in the game. His snaps were down overall. Was this one of the switches Whisenhunt had alluded to when he said during the bye that changes would be made? The quick hook for Skelton had to be one. Also, the Cardinals went away from rookie receiver Michael Floyd after he appeared to line up incorrectly, leading to a turnover.
Coaching gaffe: Falcons coach Mike Smith threw his challenge flag before officials initiated a mandatory review following the third-quarter turnover Toler helped to force. Smith's challenge was in violation of the rules. And because he threw the flag before booth officials initiated their review, the play became unreviewable. The Cardinals took over possession, short-circuiting a Falcons drive deep in Cardinals territory. Everyone makes mistakes, but coaches earning millions should know basic rules regarding challenges.
Key injury: Peterson suffered a hamstring injury, apparently in the fourth quarter.
What's next: The Cardinals are home against the Rams in Week 12.