ATLANTA – The Falcons’ game – and possibly their season – came down to a play on Sunday.
Sure, Brett Maher’s 42-yard field goal at the buzzer proved to be the decisive margin in the Cowboys’ 22-19 win here at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but that wasn’t the play that decided the outcome of this one.
No, that play came with 13:18 left in the fourth quarter while the Cowboys were clinging to a 12-9 lead following a Dak Prescott touchdown run and a missed extra point attempt by Maher.
Neither team, mind you, had led by more than three points up until that point.
On first-and-10 from their own 49, Matt Ryan delivered a short pass in traffic to Calvin Ridley – and the ball bounced off the rookie’s hands and into the chest of Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, who promptly returned it 28 yards to the Falcons’ 31-yard line.
Less than two minutes later, Ezekiel Elliott broke loose and ran through the middle of the Falcons defense for a 23-yard score. Just like that it was suddenly a 10-point Cowboys lead.
Sure, there was still more than 12 minutes left to play, but it was a stunning turn of events in a game where both teams desperately needed a win in order to keep pace for an NFC wild-card berth.
To the Falcons’ credit, they didn’t roll over. Much like they have all season long, battling through a ridiculous amount of injuries and playing close games, Atlanta battled back and scored 10 unanswered points.
When Julio Jones reeled in a 34-yard beauty down the right sideline for a game-tying touchdown with 1:52 left in regulation, Mercedes-Benz Stadium was rocking.
All the Falcons needed was a stop – to force a punt or overtime – but it never came.
Ten plays and 51 yards later, the Cowboys were down to the Falcons’ 24 and Maher booted the game-deciding points.
And in a game that was as close as this one, with two 4-5 teams fighting to stay relevant in a topsy-turvy NFC, Ryan’s interception – the lone turnover of the game – proved to be costly.
One mistake. One play. We’ve said that a lot about these Falcons in 2018.
Six times this season a Falcons game has been decided on the final play. It happened against the Eagles, Panthers, Saints, Bengals, Bucs and the Cowboys on Sunday.
This latest one, however, might be tough to overcome for these 4-6 Falcons.