Punchless Cardinals lose 2nd in a row, falling to Falcons 29-18 as NFC West lead dwindles



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ATLANTA — Patrick Peterson was eager to get a shot at Julio Jones. The way the Arizona cornerback remembered it, he had won most of the duels going back to their college days in the Southeastern Conference.

On Sunday, Jones was the clear winner.

Peterson allowed a career performance to Atlanta's star receiver, who had 10 catches for 189 yards and a touchdown as the Falcons coasted to a 29-18 victory over the punchless Cardinals.

"He won the matchup today," Peterson said. "I mean, Cy Young winners give up home runs."

The Cardinals (9-3) lost their second in a row, a once-comfortable lead in the NFC West suddenly shrinking to a single game over defending Super Bowl champion Seattle.

More troubling for Arizona than Jones' big day was an offense that nearly went its second straight game without scoring a touchdown. Rashad Johnson's 88-yard interception return was the only TD until Drew Stanton's meaningless 3-yard scoring pass to Stepfan Taylor with 1:05 remaining.

That broke a streak of 170 minutes, 1 second without an offensive touchdown — more than 11 quarters.

Stanton, who took over when Carson Palmer went down with a season-ending injury, threw for 294 yards but was picked off twice. It sure didn't help that star receiver Larry Fitzgerald missed his second straight game with a strained left knee and running back Andre Ellington went out in the first half with a hip injury.

"We're still in great position," Stanton said. "We've got to find a way to get first downs and put up points. We haven't done that the last couple of weeks."

Stanton was thoroughly outplayed by Atlanta's Matt Ryan, who completed 30 of 41 for 361 yards with a couple of scores.

The Falcons (5-7) piled up 500 yards against a team that had given up less than 300 in each of its four previous games, remaining tied for first in the woeful NFC South by matching New Orleans' victory at Pittsburgh earlier in the day.

Atlanta holds the tiebreaker edge over the Saints.

"These are the type of games you've got to win in November and December in order to play in January," Ryan said.

Steven Jackson broke off a 55-yard run — his longest since 2009 — on the Falcons' opening possession to set up Ryan's 1-yard touchdown pass to Levine Toilolo on fourth-and-goal.

Jones hauled in a 32-yard scoring pass for Atlanta's other TD.

Matt Bryant handled the rest of the scoring for the Falcons, setting a career high with five field goals though most of them weren't much longer than extra points.

The Falcons claimed their first win outside the division (they are now 1-7) and their first over a team with a winning record.

Jones eclipsed his previous career best of 182 yards receiving and made sure Atlanta didn't miss its other top receiver, Roddy White, who was out with an ankle injury.

"(Peterson) is a very good player. We think Julio is a really good player, too," Ryan said. "Julio went out and competed really hard, made some really good catches for us. He stepped up when we needed it."

The Falcons lost a touchdown when Devin Hester's 70-yard punt return was wiped out by an offensive facemask penalty just short of the goal line. The odd call came as he was trying to ward off Cardinals punter Drew Butler, who appeared to have an even tighter grip on Hester's facemask.

It didn't matter.

About the only Arizona highlight came with the Falcons looking to build on their 17-0 lead after the first quarter. Johnson stepped in front of a pass intended for Jones and took it all the way to the end zone.

"You have to face adversity," Peterson said. "She's here. It's all about what type of men we have in this locker room and how we're going to bounce back from it."

Notes: The Cardinals missed a chance to wipe out Jones' longest play, a 41-yard reception in the third quarter. The replay clearly showed that Ryan only got one foot inbounds, but coach Bruce Arians failed to challenge the call. ... Bryant's previous career high was four field goals in a game. He connected from 20, 23, 21, 45 and 28 yards, improving to 22 of 24 on the season. His only misses have been from 57 and 59 yards. ... Arizona S Tyrann Mathieu left the game with a broken thumb, while OG Paul Fanaika went out with a high ankle sprain.


AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL


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