ATLANTA – The Atlanta Falcons have been waiting for that one breakout game where all three phases come together.
On Sunday against the visiting Dallas Cowboys, they got one.
Atlanta, led by Adrian Clayborn's six sacks on defense and Matt Ryan's precision passing on offense, beat the Cowboys 27-7 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. With the win, the Falcons improved to 5-4 on the year. The Cowboys fell to 5-4.
The Falcons defense was the story of the day. Aside from Clayborn's six sacks of Dak Prescott – which is a club record for the Falcons (more on that later) – Atlanta held the Cowboys to 233 yards of total offense. Prescott completed just 19 of 29 passes for 176 yards and no touchdowns.
"I told the team in the locker room [it was] really a brotherhood win because we really included all three phases, and that's what we're searching, that's what we're hoping, that's what we need to do," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "The energy tonight was great, and that includes our fans to have them here, and we felt that."
The Falcons also forced two fumbles and recovered both. Dallas was without Ezekiel Elliott (who's serving a six-game suspension) and left tackle Tyron Smith (back, groin issues) and the Falcons took full advantage of their absences. The Cowboys' leading rusher was Alfred Morris, who had 11 runs for 53 yards. Prescott had six runs for 42 yards.
Ryan had an efficient game throwing the ball, completing 22 of 29 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns. He did throw one interception.
Falcons offense comes alive before the half – and never looks back
Tevin Coleman crashed through the Cowboys' defensive line for a 1-yard touchdown to cap a well-executed nine-play, 80-yard drive for the Falcons, giving them a 10-7 lead with 1:31 left in the first half in the closing minutes of the first half.
Coleman had some help from defensive tackle Dontari Poe, who made a guest appearance at fullback for the Falcons' offense, drawing loud cheers from the crowd at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The 9-play, 80-yard scoring drive was reminiscent of what we'd become so accustomed to seeing from Matt Ryan and the rest of the offense. For more on that key drive, click here.
Clayborn sets Falcons' single-game sack record
Clayborn, a seventh-year defensive end, scorched Cowboys backup left tackle Chaz Green and registered six sacks on Prescott, the most in a single game in Falcons franchise history. Entering Sunday's game, Clayborn had recorded six sacks over the course of an entire season just once in his previous six years.
Clayborn finished the game with six sacks, seven hits on the quarterback, three tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He now has a career-high eight sacks this year. For more on Clayborn's big day, click here.
Falcons lose Freeman early
On Atlanta's first offensive series of the day, Devonta Freeman left the field after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit. He was later ruled out to return with a concussion. This is Freeman's second concussion of the year as he suffered one back in the preseason.
Tevin Coleman and Terron Ward carried the load for the Falcons for the remainder of the game. Without Freeman, the Falcons tallied 132 yards on the ground, led by Tevin Coleman's 83 yards and one touchdown on 20 attempts.
What does the Falcons' win mean?
With the win, the Falcons improve to 5-4 and keep pace in the wide-open NFC. Atlanta still has five of its six divisional games during the final seven games of the season, plus two games against the NFC foes Seattle and Minnesota.
The NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints won again on Sunday, beating the the Buffalo Bills 47-10 and improved to 7-2. The Carolina Panthers are 6-3 and play Monday night against the Miami Dolphins (4-4).
"Let's hope that that style really enables us to come through loud and clear," Quinn said. "We felt like we've been close at times and we weren't able to nail it at the end, and that was hard for us. Having the plus turnover margin, that was an important step in the right direction for us knowing how we can go after the ball. When you get a chance to hit the quarterback, that's where some turnovers are likely to come. We'll go right back to it tomorrow. We've got another NFC team coming up. We'll enjoy this one tonight, and then come Monday we'll get right back to it."
What's next for the Falcons?
The Falcons (5-4) will travel to Seattle for a showdown with the Seahawks (6-3) on "Monday Night Football."
The Falcons and Seahawks last met in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs – a decisive 36-20 win by the Falcons in the Georgia Dome. This time it'll be late in November up in Seattle's CenturyLink Field, one of the more hostile environments for opposing teams. Suffice to say there will be plenty at stake between these two NFC powerhouses.
The last time Atlanta traveled to the Pacific Northwest, the Seahawks eked out a 26-24 win. Falcons fans will remember that stinging loss for the non-pass interference call on Julio Jones late in the game. Keep in mind, too, that this game will also mark the fourth road game in a five-game stretch for the Falcons.
Recap Sunday's game with the in-game blog
We provided live updates and analysis during Sunday's home win over the Cowboys, as well as highlights, stats and additional insights. You can recap all the action below.