Falcons outplayed and out coached in playoff loss to Cardinals

Michael TurnerIn my recap of the Cardinals’ 30-24 playoff win over the Falcons on Saturday, I wrote that Arizona played their best game of the season. If that’s the case, then the Falcons played their worst.

Atlanta turned the ball over three times (leading to 14 points), committed six penalties and had their game plan shoved directly up their asses. They clearly didn’t have a plan for what would happen if Michael Turner got shut down (which is exactly what happened) and it was absolutely inexcusable for the coaching staff to use Jerious Norwood as little as they did.

The three times Norwood touched the ball, he gained 12 yards on 2 carries and caught a huge 28 yard pass that kept the game alive in the fourth quarter. Every time he was on the field he did something positive, yet Mike Smith kept him tucked away on the sidelines like they were saving him for next week. It was ludicrous why Norwood wasn’t more involved in the offense, especially since Turner was so ineffective. I realize you have to feed the horse that got you there, but clearly the Cardinals were executing their game plan to stop Turner to perfection, so Atlanta should have adjusted.

This loss can’t solely be pinned on the coaches though, because the Falcon players were brutal, too. For the first time all season, Turner tiptoed around defenders instead of bowling them over, while Matt Ryan’s two interceptions were out of desperation in trying to force the action. Not that you can fully blame Turner and Ryan though, because Atlanta’s offensive line was absolutely abused by the Cardinals’ defensive front the entire game. They acted like a revolving door to the Falcons’ backfield and really, Ryan was the only reason the game was close in the end because he led the Falcons on a couple of nice drives.

Defensively, the Falcons didn’t play that bad. But where was John Abraham? I know he wasn’t 100%, but 90-year old Mike Gandy made him invisible. And how bad did veterans Keith Brooking and Lawyer Milloy (I know he wasn’t 100% either) look? Milloy took a horrible angle on a 71-yard Anquan Boldin touchdown in the second quarter, while Brooking dropped an easy interception and simply blew his assignment on the most crucial play of the game when Kurt Warner found tight end Stephen Spach for a 23-yard first down conversion that allowed Arizona to run out the remainder of the clock. The Falcons’ three top defensive players were non-existent and the team has a huge decision to make on whether or not Brooking and/or Milloy will be back next year, despite the outstanding leadership that they proved such a young defense with the entire season.

But regardless of the way the season ended, this was a great season for the Falcons. Nobody expected them to be playing in the playoffs at the start of the year and if Matt Ryan continues to develop, we’ll be seeing him in more playoff games in the near future. They have a solid offensive core in Ryan, Turner and Roddy White, a great young coach in Mike Smith, and a couple of young, emerging defensive players like middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, Jonathan Babineaux and Chris Houston (if he can ever put it all together). In the offseason, GM Thomas Dimitroff will hopefully focus on the defensive side of the ball (they lack major depth at corner, could use a playmaker at safety and might need two new outside linebackers) and get Ryan a big receiving target at tight end.

It was a great season for the Falcons and they truly have something great brewing in Atlanta. It was just a bad ending to such a fun ride.

To read the Cardinals’ recap, click here.

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Cardinals use big plays to beat Falcons in Wild Card win

Ken WhisenhuntThe big question entering the Arizona-Atlanta Wild Card matchup Saturday is what Cardinals team would show up at kickoff – the one that breezed to an 8-5 record, or the one that collapsed over a team game stretch in the final month of the regular season.

That question was answered quickly, as Kurt Warner hit Larry Fitzgerald on a 42-yard flee-flicker touchdown on Arizona’s second possession of the game, as the Cardinals beat the Falcons 30-24 in Glendale.

The keys to Arizona’s victory are pretty easy to spot. The Cards absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, didn’t make nearly as many mistakes as the Falcons did, and finally got a contribution from their running game.

The Cardinals essentially had two good offensive drive this entire game. They had a 14-play, 76-yard, 7:43-minute drive near the end of the third quarter that was capped off by a Tim Hightower 4-yard touchdown to give Arizona a 28-17 lead, and they had a great drive at the end of the fourth quarter to milk the clock and put the game away. That’s it. Their other touchdowns came from big plays, including 27-yard fumble recovery by Antrel Rolle, which was returned for a touchdown at the start of the second half.

Arizona spent the rest of the time shutting down Michael Turner, creating massive pressure on rookie Matt Ryan, and opening up enough running lanes for Hightower and Edgerrin James to keep the offense balanced. The Cards played with more fire for four quarters and essentially dominated the game on both sides of the ball. This was easily their best showing of the year and the win was a nice treat for a fan base that hasn’t seen a lot of winning from this franchise over the past 61 years.

It was also great to see such a standup guy in Kurt Warner play great. His lone mistake wasn’t his fault, as the receiver let the ball bounce off his shoulder pads and was intercepted. Warner made some incredible throws and kept the Cards moving all day.

Now the true test. Can this team go on the road and win in Carolina or New York? They haven’t all season and it’s highly doubtful the Panthers or Giants play as bad next week as the Falcons did Saturday. Whatever – the Cards (and their fans) can enjoy the feeling for a couple days before worrying about the next round.

To read the Falcons’ recap, click here.

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