The Falcons and Cowboys kickoff at AT&T Stadium on Sunday afternoon in the third week of the 2015 season. Check out these pictures of the game.
Challenging First Doesn't Doom Atlanta: Dallas got the ball at the outset and wasted no time capitalizing. The Cowboys scored in a little more than two minutes thanks to a long penalty and a pair of long runs from Joseph Randle—the first for 28 yards, the second for 37. A subsequent three and out by Atlanta's offense gave Brandon Weeden and Co. an opportunity to march down the field again and take a 14-0 lead.
But the Falcons didn't let these problems become fatal; rather, they answered by producing a first quarter touchdown drive of their own and forcing a Cowboys punt. Atlanta then calmed down and, eventually, stopped the bleeding. Although an 11-point deficit at halftime wasn't ideal, it could have been a lot worse given how well Dallas' lines and running backs performed in the opening 30 minutes.
Freeman Steps Up: Devonta Freeman received his first career start with Tevin Coleman (rib) sidelined, and the second-year RB didn't disappoint. Freeman, who was lethal in the run and pass game, finished with three rushing touchdowns and 193 total yards from scrimmage—141 on the ground, 52 in the air. On a day when Atlanta fell behind early and needed a balanced approach to claw its way back, Freeman's success was nothing short of imperative.
DiMarco Bulldozes Dallas D: Patrick DiMarco paved the way for a number of Freeman's big runs and snagged a four-yard catch for a first down on the possession that led to Atlanta's fourth TD. The 26-year-old fullback has improved drastically in 2015 and, thanks to his ability to work in the wide zone, has been instrumental to the Falcons' new offensive scheme.
Defense Adjusts:** The Cowboys offense was nearly unstoppable in the first half—they racked up 28 points and were able to move the ball downfield at will—but was far less effective after intermission. In the final 30 minutes of play, Atlanta shut out Dallas and stymied what was a lethal running game. Credit goes to Dan Quinn, coordinator Richard Smith and the defensive players for making the necessary adjustments to stop the Cowboys from running up the score.
This turnaround began at the line of scrimmage, where Atlanta's D got pressure in the third stanza after being overwhelmed in the early going. Justin Durant, Nate Stupar and Tyson Jackson were among those who forced negative plays and prevented short gains from building into substantial yardage.
Offensive Creativity: As Kyle Shanahan installs the finer details of his playbook, we're beginning to see more and more creativity from Atlanta's offense. For example: On a third and short situation from Dallas' 14, Shanahan put Freeman at FB and Julio Jones at HB, which, of course, bewildered the Cowboys defense. Matt Ryan handed off to Freeman and faked a pitch to Jones, resulting in a 7-yard dash and, five snaps later, a Freeman score.
According to Vaughn McClure of ESPN, Jones referred to Shanahan as a genius after the matchup.
Third Quarter Issues End: Atlanta has had a lot of troubles coming out of halftime in recent years, but on Sunday, the Falcons won the third quarter 8-0 thanks to Freeman's third TD of the afternoon and a two-point conversion by Levine Toilolo. This cut Dallas' lead to three points and allowed the Falcons to get into a rhythm and begin the comeback.
Beasley Comes Up Huge: Vic Beasley, Jr.'s second career sack proved to be a big one. Just after the Falcons took a four-point lead in the fourth quarter—their first lead of the contest—Atlanta's rookie edge rusher brought down Weeden on a third and three, forcing Dallas to punt. The Falcons then put together an 11-play, 62-yard touchdown drive to secure the win. The eighth-overall pick is now on pace to amass double-digit sacks in 2015.
Julio Battles: Despite a sore hamstring, Jones racked up 12 catches, 164 receiving yards and two TDs—the latter of which all but sealed Dallas' fate. His performance allowed him to break the NFL record for most receptions in the first three games of a regular season (32). Clark Gaines of the New York Jets previously held the record since 1980.
Ryan Recovers: Although Ryan got off to a bit of a slow start, the Falcons QB hung tough and finished with 24 completions on 36 attempts for 285 yards and two TDs—good for a 109.1 passer rating. The 30-year-old did a great job leading the Falcons to a scoring drive at the end of the first half, converting on third downs (9 of 14) and composing a number of long, productive possessions in the second half.
Red Zone Success: Quinn emphasized the red zone offense throughout training camp, and that extra work seemed to pay off on Sunday. The Falcons scored TDs on four of five red zone trips and notched a field goal during the one drive they couldn't punch it in.