The Atlanta Falcons finally got the defensive spark it has been lacking and it wound up helping them end their five-game losing streak.
Linebacker Deion Jones came up with a 41-yard pick-six and the Falcons scored 26 unanswered first-half points en route to a 40-14 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
Atlanta began the day with just 11 takeaways all season. They came up with three against the Cardinals – an interception by Brian Poole and a strip-sack by Grady Jarrett, one of seven sacks for the Falcons — but none bigger than the one by Jones.
“The turnovers, ball-hawking, defensively, the ability to run the ball, to me, those felt good,” Atlanta coach Dan Quinn said. “And to do that here at home with our fans to make sure they saw that identity on full display was important.”
Arizona scored first, finishing an eight-play drive with David Johnson’s 1-yard run and forced the Falcons to go three-and-out on the ensuing possession.
That’s when the momentum quickly switched to the Atlanta side. On the second play of the drive, Rosen fired a pass in the right flat that was intended for Johnson. But Jones came up with the interception and went 41 yards for a touchdown.
From that point it was all Atlanta. The Falcons added a 22-yard field goal from Matt Bryant, a 1-yard run by Ryan, a 33-yard field goal by Bryant and 21-yard pass from Ryan to Julio Jones for a 26-7 halftime lead.
“(The interception return) was a contributing factor,” Quinn said. “I like the resiliency of the group coming back after that and I thought that was definitely the thing that kind of sparked it for the defense. We knew the turnover margin was going to be a big factor. We talked about it so often, so to the see that come to light was important.”
Atlanta (5-9) was led by quarterback Matt Ryan, who was 22-for-36 for 231 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran three times for 18 yards and one touchdown.
The Falcons found their long-lost running game. Tailback Tevin Coleman rushed 11 times for a career-best 145 yards and one touchdown. He had a career-long 65 yards run and the Falcons ran the ball for a season-best 215 yards.
“I thought Tevin, his ability to get on edge was going to be an important factor in this game, where we could find some space to circle the defense,” Quinn said. “I saw him in the locker room and said I was real proud of him, man, in terms of getting a big one and getting some other ones to go.”
Arizona coach Steve Wilks was disappointed by the way his team defended the run.
“That’s one of the things we emphasized and talked about,” Wilks said. “They’ve struggled pretty much the last couple of weeks running the football. We knew what they were going to do in the passing game. We’ve got to do a better job and that starts with me.”
Ryan connected with eight receivers, with Julio Jones catching six passes for 82 yard and one touchdown and Calvin Ridley grabbing five passes for 42 yards.
Rosen suffered a long afternoon. The rookie was 13-for-22 for 132 yards and two interceptions. He was lifted midway in the fourth quarter for backup Mike Glennon.
“It was frustrating,” Rosen said. “A couple (of the sacks) were my fault. They’re battling their butts off up front. I’ve just got to play better. We’ve all got to play better.”
Arizona (3-11) had trouble moving the ball all day. David Johnson led the team with 33 yards rushing on 11 carries. Larry Fitzgerald caught six passes for 66 yards.
The Falcons tacked on a touchdown on a 43-yard run from Coleman and a 5-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to Justin Hardy in the second half. The Cardinals scored with 3:14 left when Glennon threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Trent Sherfield.