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Cowboys Can't Maintain Early Lead, Fall To Falcons 39-28

After a red hot start, the offense went cold and the defense couldn't hold.

The Cowboys found a running game, but it wasn't enough.
The Cowboys found a running game, but it wasn't enough.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

There were times during this game that seemed unreal. After all the panic about the running back situation, Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden, and Lance Dunbar absolutely went off on the Atlanta Falcons. According to the FOX announcers, Brandon Weeden set an all time Dallas Cowboys franchise record for consecutive completed passes, going back to last season. (Stop a minute and let that sink in. Brandon Weeden now holds a passing record for the team of Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman, and Tony Romo.) And when the Cowboys went into halftime with a 28-17 lead, it felt somewhat disappointing, because they should have led by more. As it would turn out, they needed more, because a game that at times looked like it was going to be a blowout in the first half turned around as the Falcons found their game on both offense and defense in the second. Meanwhile, Dallas was unable to sustain their performance and looked completely outclassed after halftime.

The Falcons came storming back to take a 32 to 28 lead with 11:25 in the fourth quarter, and they would never trail after that. They were able to respond, and Dallas was not, losing in the end by a final score of 39-28.

What it came down to, really, was that for the first half, the Cowboys won the battle in the trenches, and in the second they didn't. The offensive line opened up some gaping holes for Randle and McFadden early, and generally gave Weeden a clean pocket. Meanwhile, the defensive line was again solid to start, pressuring Matt Ryan and keeping the run under control. Nick Hayden, the much derided defensive tackle, knocked down two consecutive Ryan passes early in the third quarter. But that would all disappear about halfway through that third period, and it was what made the difference.

The Cowboys had a couple of notable letdowns, one on a long scoring drive in the first quarter, and the other on the drive resulting in a Jullio Jones touchdown midway through the third. The defense had kept him bottled up most of the game, but Ryan finally started to find him. The 45-yard touchdown catch plus a two point conversion cut what had at one time been a 14 point lead to three, and the pressure was really on Dallas for the first time. It was on drives where the Falcons were able to hold the Dallas front four off and open some holes that they got things going. Devonta Freeman also got untracked during the second half, hitting 100 yards on the go-ahead touchdown. The Atlanta offensive line just started opening up holes for him the way the Cowboys were for Randle and company in the first half. They had not run the ball at all effectively in their first two games, and the sudden emergence of their running game made the task much harder for Rod Marinelli and his defenders. Dallas just couldn't stop Jones or Freeman in the second half.

Although they were not able to keep Julio Jones completely under control early, the secondary had some good plays, and twice missed interceptions early. One was on a beautiful read by Morris Claiborne where he cut in front of the receiver but had the ball go right through his arms. But things went downhill after that, and Jones wound up with another massive day.

After being almost unstoppable in the first half, the Cowboys could not keep drives alive in the second. Perhaps the Falcons made better adjustments, or Weeden and company just came down to earth. The Falcons certainly sold out to stop the run in the second half, showing no real respect for the deep passing game from Weeden. He strictly was working short passes, and the Cowboys just had nothing to keep the defense honest. In the second half, they could do almost nothing offensively, and that in turn left the defense on the field for far too long.

The kill shot was a touchdown to Julio Jones with only 3:04 left after the Falcons marched down the field. That upped the margin to 11 points, and it was over.

The team is not making any excuses, but clearly the long injury list played a role in the loss. Still, the running back by committee had a very good first half. Weeden only made one really bad mistake. While the defense had something of a collapse after the half, they looked very good at times. The biggest issue may have been that Weeden never completed a pass to any outside receivers. Only Jason Witten, Cole Beasley, Lance Dunbar and Joseph Randle caught passes for the entire game. The Falcons were able to shut down the short passing game and the run, and that made the difference.

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