Jones leads Falcons past punchless Cards 29-18

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

ATLANTA (AP) -- Getting a career day from Julio Jones, the Atlanta Falcons finally beat a team outside the anemic NFC South and remained in first place.

For the Arizona Cardinals, a once-comfortable division lead is slipping away.

Julio Jones had a career day, catching 10 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown to keep the Falcons improbably atop their division with a 29-18 victory over the punchless Cardinals on Sunday.

Arizona (9-3) still leads the NFC West after its second straight loss, but now by only one game over defending Super Bowl champion Seattle.

More troubling for the Cardinals, they had gone more than 11 quarters without an offensive touchdown until a meaningless score with just over a minute remaining.

Steven Jackson broke off a 55-yard run - his longest run since 2009 - to set up a touchdown on the Falcons' opening possession.

Jones hauled in a 32-yard scoring pass, and Matt Bryant kicked a career-best five field goals for the Falcons (5-7), who matched New Orleans' 35-32 win at Pittsburgh earlier in the day to stay tied with the Saints. Ryan was 30 of 41 for 361 yards and a pair of TDs.

The Falcons posted their first win outside the division (they are now 1-7) and picked up their first win over a team with a winning record. Atlanta holds a tiebreaker edge over the Saints in the NFL's weakest division.

Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson said earlier in the week that he was looking forward to going against Jones, claiming he had won the "majority" of the battles going back to their college days in the Southeastern Conference.

Not on this day.

Jones was magnificent, eclipsing his previous career best of 182 yards receiving. His performance was especially timely with the Falcons missing their other top receiver, Roddy White, who was out with an ankle injury.

The Falcons jumped ahead on the opening possession, sparked by Jackson's burst to the Cardinals 1, though it took Atlanta four more plays to get in from there.

Jackson was stuffed at the line, Ryan threw an incomplete pass and Devonta Freeman also was stopped for no gain. The Falcons decided to go for it, sending in an extra lineman as though they intended to run again, but Ryan flipped a pass to tight end Levine Toilolo for the touchdown.

After the Cardinals went three-and-out, the Falcons thought they had made it 14-0 when Devin Hester returned a punt 70 yards to the end zone. But, in an odd call, Hester was flagged for an offensive facemask penalty just short of the goal line as he tried to ward off Cardinals punter Drew Butler, who appeared to have an even tighter grip on Hester's facemask.

The penalty denied Hester from extending his NFL record with his 21st return for a touchdown. The Falcons were so irate over the call that special teams coach Keith Armstrong picked up a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct from the sideline.

Atlanta wound up settling for a field goal.

It didn't matter.

Not the way the Cardinals are struggling on offense with Drew Stanton at quarterback instead of Carson Palmer, who is out for the season. 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.

Arizona was outgained 500-329 in total yards.

Not much went right for the Cardinals, other than an errant pass from Ryan after the Falcons drove deep into Arizona territory looking to build on a 17-0 lead after the first quarter.

Stepping in front of Jones, Rashad Jones intercepted the throw and went 88 yards for a touchdown.


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Jones' big day leads Falcons past Cardinals, 29-18

AP Sports Writer

ATLANTA (AP) -- Patrick Peterson wanted to cover Julio Jones again, adding he had won most of their earlier matchups.

Peterson got his wish, and this time he couldn't deny Jones got the best of him.

Jones' career-best game helped lead the Atlanta Falcons to a 29-18 win over Peterson and the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday in an improbable matchup of first-place teams.

Jones had 10 catches for a career-high 189 yards and a touchdown for the Falcons (5-7), the NFC South leaders.

The Cardinals (9-3) have lost two straight, cutting their lead to one game over Seattle in the NFC West.

"It's going to be a long plane ride home," Peterson said.

Peterson played for LSU, Jones played for Alabama, and the rivalry that started in college has continued in the NFL.

"He won a couple battles, and I won a couple battles, but for the most part I believe I won the majority of those battles," Peterson had said on Wednesday.

That boast caught Jones' attention.

"Supposedly, Pat said he won most of the battles between me and him," Jones said, adding he made sure he had "proper rest" to ensure "everything was down" in his timing with quarterback Matt Ryan.

"I am pretty sure it was a statement game for Julio," Atlanta's Devin Hester said. "He told me that every night, and every day he thought about it, so I do not know if it stirred him up, but he showed it on the field."

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians clearly wasn't happy Peterson couldn't back up his boast.

"You better watch out when you call people out," Arians said after the game. "You better be ready to play. If you want to call him out, call him out, but don't give up ... a career day."

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

The Falcons took a 17-0 lead in the first quarter.

Steven Jackson's 55-yard run - his longest run since 2009 - set up Ryan's 1-yard touchdown pass to Levine Toilolo. Ryan threw a 32-yard scoring pass to Jones later in the quarter.

Ryan was 30 of 41 for 361 yards and a pair of TDs.

Arizona's only touchdown until late in the game came on an 88-yard interception return by safety Rashad Johnson in the second quarter.

The Cardinals went more than 11 quarters without an offensive touchdown until Drew Stanton's 3-yard scoring pass to running back Stepfan Taylor with just over a minute remaining.

Here are some things to know about the Falcons' first win over a team with a winning record:

CALL IT BACK: Hester had an apparent 70-yard punt return for a touchdown called back when he was flagged for an offensive facemask penalty as he threw a stiff-arm on Cardinals punter Drew Butler. The replays showed Butler grabbed Hester's facemask.

Falcons special teams coach Keith Armstrong received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for protesting the call.

CARDINALS HURTING: The Cardinals were without receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who missed his second straight game with a strained left knee. Running back Andre Ellington didn't return after leaving with a hip injury in the first half.

Arians said starting right guard Paul Fanaika has a high ankle sprain, and safety Tyrann Mathieu has a broken left thumb. Mathieu's thumb was in a cast after the game.

JACKSON HITS 100: Jackson had 18 carries for 101 yards, his first 100-yard game since Nov. 25, 2012, for the Rams at Arizona. "Just another day at the office," he said.

CAREER DAY FOR BRYANT: Matt Bryant kicked a career-best five field goals without a miss for Atlanta. He was good from 20, 23, 21, 45 and 28 yards.

"In a perfect world, you hope you're kicking 17 extra points, but if they count on you to get a field goal, I just go out there and do it," he said.

NO OFFENSE: Stanton completed 24 of 39 passes for 294 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. The Cardinals were successful on only 1 of 7 third-down plays.


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