After clawing back in the second half on Sunday to tie the game at 27-apiece in the fourth quarter against the Arizona Cardinals, the Atlanta Falcons seemed to have a renewed energy.
The momentum the Falcons built after halftime took a hit, however, when safety Sharrod Neasman was called for fair catch interference on a punt that set the Cardinals up at Atlanta’s 45-yard line with 7:12 remaining. That drive ultimately resulted in a 14-yard touchdown pass from Kyler Murray to David Johnson that put the Cardinals up for good.
Neasman’s fair catch interference gave the Cardinals great starting position on their final scoring drive, but it can be argued that the penalty shouldn’t have been called at all. In fact, FOX Sports rules analyst and former NFL official Mike Pereira didn’t believe Neasman should have been flagged on the play.
For his part, Neasman wasn’t willing to say whether the call was right or wrong, but he said after the game that he didn’t touch anybody on the play in question.
“Honestly, man, I don’t know if it is the right call or isn’t, but I was playing football the way I know how,” Neasman said. “Full speed running down, didn’t run into anybody, didn’t touch anybody. They called what they wanted to call, I guess, based on where the ball landed, regardless of how close I was to the ball.”
The punt was caught by the Cardinals at their own 40-yard line, but the penalty on Neasman moved the ball into Atlanta territory. Vic Beasley was penalized later on the drive for a horse-collar tackle, which moved the Cardinals into the red zone. Three plays later, Murray found Johnson in the left corner of the end zone and gave the Cardinals a 34-27 lead.
That lead would prove to be all Arizona needed after Matt Bryant missed the extra point following a Falcons touchdown with 1:53 remaining. Atlanta’s offense, which gained 444 yards and scored its most points of the season, would never get the ball back, however, and Arizona held on for the 34-33 victory.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn didn’t comment on the special teams penalty that set up the Cardinals’ final scoring drive, and the officials never explained to Neasman why he was flagged on the play.
“They didn’t explain anything to me,” he said. “I can’t call it, man. I don’t know.”
The special teams penalty was one of a number of calls that went Arizona’s way on Sunday. The Falcons appeared to have forced a fumble at the goal line in the first half, but the referees stood with the call on the field that the runner was down after Atlanta challenged the play. Later, the officials again stood with the on-field call that Murray gained a first down on a third-down scramble after reviewing the play that iced the game for the Cardinals.
Get an inside look at Atlanta Falcons vs. Arizona Cardinals with top photos from the field at State Farm Stadium