The Atlanta Falcons (0-2) looked in control in every aspect of Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys (1-1), until they didn't.
After cutting Atlanta's lead to 39-37 with a late touchdown in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys converted their onside-kick attempt to regain possession with 1:48 remaining in the game. After a 24-yard completion to rookie receiver CeeDee Lamb, the Cowboys moved into position for a game-winning field goal.
Kicker Greg Zuerlein hit the 46-yard field goal to give Dallas a stunning 40-39 victory against an Atlanta team that led throughout the entire game.
Atlanta raced out to an early 20-0 lead in the first quarter by playing complementary offensive and defensive football. The Falcons forced a fumble on four of the Cowboy's first five offensive possessions and recovered three of them to set their offense up with short fields following consecutive three-and-outs to start the game. Linebacker Foye Oluokun was credited with three forced fumbles, while defensive end Dante Fowler was credited with one forced fumble of his own.
That optimal field position jump-started Atlanta's offense, which scored 14 points after the first two fumbles and finished the first quarter with a pair of field goals. Calvin Ridley and Hayden Hurst were early stars for Atlanta and scored the team's first two touchdowns. Ridley showed impressive balance to stay in bounds and stretch the ball over the left front pylon for a 22-yard touchdown catch, and Hurst broke wide open on the next possession for a 42-yard touchdown, his first as a Falcon.
Injuries began to take their toll as the first quarter transitioned into the second. Defensive end Takk McKinley left the game due to a groin injury and did not return to the action. Right tackle Kaleb McGary also had to leave the game and looked visibly pained after injuring his knee and did not return to the game.
Two other defensive starters for Atlanta sustained injuries early in the game. Safety Ricardo Allen injured his elbow in the second quarter and was out for the remainder of the game, and Oluokun was initially taken out because of muscle cramps and then rule out for the rest of the action with a hamstring injury.
As the injuries mounted, the Cowboys found their footing for the first time in the game. With just over a minute remaining in the first quarter, Dallas began an 11-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in a 1-yard touchdown run by Ezekiel Elliott.
With the sparse crowd in AT&T Stadium showing signs of life for the first time, the Falcons regained possession looking to counter the Cowboys' long scoring drive. Atlanta put together one of its own in response, going 75 yards in 12 plays and scoring its third touchdown with 3-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to Ridley, his second of the day.
Ridley finished the afternoon with seven catches for 109 yards and two touchdowns. It was the second-straight 100-yard game for Ridley, who now has four touchdown receptions through two games. Julio Jones was noticeably hobbled throughout the afternoon due to a hamstring injury, and he finished with 24 yards on two catches.
A pair of touchdown drives by Dallas in the third quarter cut the Falcons' lead to 29-24, making it a one-possession game for the first time since Atlanta's first touchdown. As they had before, however, the Falcons trusted in their offense to respond, and the unit came through.
Aided by a crucial 19-yard reception by Jones on a fourth-and-2, the Falcons marched 74 yards on 11 plays and capped the drive off with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to Russell Gage.
With a fourth-quarter touchdown, Dallas cut Atlanta's lead to 39-30 and had the opportunity to make it a one-possession game down the stretch. The Cowboys opted to go for a 2-point conversion, seeking to cut the Falcons' lead to 7, but Atlanta's defense denied Elliott at the goal line to protect their lead.
After stopping Elliott on his 2-point conversion attempt, the Falcons took over on offense with just under five minutes remaining in the game and Dallas having all three of their timeouts remaining. Atlanta ran Todd Gurley three consecutive times, picking up a first down and causing Dallas to use all three timeouts. A sack on Matt Ryan prevented the Falcons from extending the drive, however, and gave the Cowboys another chance to cut into the lead.
A deep 38-yard pass from Dak Prescott to Michael Gallup along the left sideline that drew a challenge from Falcons coach Dan Quinn moved the Cowboys to the 5-yard line just ahead of the two-minute warning. Four plays later, Prescott scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to cut the Falcons' lead to just two points and set up the onside kick that eventually led to Dallas's game-winning field goal.
Despite possessing the ball for over seven minutes longer than the Cowboys, the Falcons only gained 380 yards of offense to Dallas's 570. A factor in that were the short fields Atlanta's offense had to work with off of the turnovers. Ryan finished the day completing 24-of-36 pass attempts for 273 yards with four touchdown passes and not interceptions. On the other side, Prescott ended his afternoon going 34-of-47 for 450 yards with one touchdown pass and three touchdown runs.
Gurley led the Falcons on the ground, carrying the ball 21 times for 61 yards. Elliott finished the game with 22 carries for 89 yards and a score.
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