ATLANTA — On a miserable day, Matt Ryan came through when it counted for the Atlanta Falcons.
Ryan overcame a career-worst five interceptions, guiding Atlanta to its only offensive touchdown in the fourth quarter, and the Falcons rallied from their first loss of the season for a sloppy 23-19 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.
The Falcons (9-1) turned it over a total of six times, but Michael Turner scored on a 1-yard run with 6:40 remaining to give Atlanta its first lead of the game. Ryan set up the score with four completions for 64 yards, including a 9-yarder to Tony Gonzalez that was just short of the end zone. Turner scored on the next play.
Coming off a bye, Arizona (4-6) lost its sixth straight game. The Cardinals tried to bolster their anemic offense by switching quarterbacks, replacing John Skelton with rookie Ryan Lindley, but Larry Fitzgerald couldn’t hang on to a fourth-down pass after Ryan’s fifth pick.
Both teams struggled offensively in the second half. The Cardinals had the only points — Jay Feely’s fourth field goal of the game, set up by Ryan’s fourth interception — before the Falcons finally came alive on a 70-yard drive.
With Julio Jones sidelined by an ankle injury, Ryan completed an 11-yard pass to third receiver Harry Douglas, then a 26-yarder to Douglas into Arizona territory. Roddy White hauled in an 18-yard pass before Ryan, on third-and-5 at the Arizona 10, went to ol’ reliable. Gonzalez grabbed the pass and stretched for the goal line, getting his helmet knocked off in the process.
The officials ruled him down about a foot short. Turner carried it in from there, standing defiantly in the end zone in front of the cheering Atlanta fans who had booed him earlier for the Falcons’ continuing problems running the ball.
Arizona had one more chance, after Ryan had a pass deflected at the line, the ball wobbling into the arms of Cardinals linebacker Sam Acho at the Falcons 32.
On fourth-and-2 with just over 3 minutes remaining, the Cardinals decided to go for it. Lindley threw a pass that Fitzgerald appeared to haul in at the 5 as he tumbled out of bounds. But as he took a hit from William Moore, Fitzgerald rolled over and the ball came loose. The Falcons took over and ran out the clock.
Ryan completed 28 of 48 for 301 yards. The Cardinals managed only 178 yards, most of them by LaRod Stephens-Howling, who carried 22 times for 127 yards. Lindley was 9 of 20 for 64 yards. Skelton was benched in the second quarter after going 2 of 7 for 6 yards.
The tone was set on the very first snap.
Ryan threw a little behind White, the ball bouncing off his hands and right into the arms of Arizona safety Rashad Johnson for the interception. He returned it to the Atlanta 9, and the Cardinals punched it in two plays later on a 3-yard run by Stephens-Howling.
On Arizona’s next possession, Stephens-Howling broke off a 40-yard run to set up Feely’s 48-yard field goal. The Falcons were down 10-0 before they even gained a yard.
Ryan threw two more interceptions before the first quarter was done, the second of which led to another field goal by Feely to make it 13-0. But the Falcons rallied to tie it up by halftime.
Matt Bryant kicked a 51-yard field goal, then came perhaps the biggest play of the game after the Cardinals brought in Lindley. As the rookie dropped back to pass on third down, John Abraham came in from the blind side and got his hand on the ball a split-second before Lindley’s arm came forward.
While both teams mostly stood around, thinking it was an incomplete pass, Abraham motioned for Jonathan Babineaux to pick up the ball. The 300-pound tackle did just that, running 15 yards for a stunning touchdown. With a nod to Gonzalez, Babineaux feigned like was going to dunk the ball over the crossbar, but just flipped it over instead.
Call it a celebratory layup.