The Falcons weren’t content to savor the long-awaited complete game that was so elusive in the first half of this season.
Their emphasis was on making sure this isn’t the only time they show their 2016 Super Bowl season was no fluke.
Atlanta proved it could win without Devonta Freeman as it overwhelmed a Dallas team that looked lost without Ezekiel Elliott, 27-7, on Sunday.
The Falcons (5-4) can look ahead to next week’s visit to Seattle with renewed confidence after winning behind Matt Ryan’s two touchdown passes and Adrian Clayborn’s team-record six sacks.
It was an important boost for the Falcons, who had lost four of five and scored no more than 17 points in any of the losses.
“It wasn’t like we installed a new offense or something,” said tight end Austin Hooper. “We just executed. It feels good when you go out and execute.”
Along the way, the Falcons learned Tevin Coleman could handle the bulk of the carries when necessary. The bigger discovery was Clayborn as a pass-rusher capable of dominating a game.
“AC went crazy today,” said receiver Julio Jones, who had six catches for 57 yards.
Added Atlanta safety Ricardo Allen: “I didn’t know it was him at first.”
Atlanta outscored Dallas 17-0 in the second half while ending the Cowboys’ three-game winning streak.
“We’ve just got to continue to do that from here on out and have fun doing it,” Jones said. “We had a lot of fun today. It’s a good game for us to do it on, to have a complete game.”
Freeman suffered a concussion when hit by Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens on Atlanta’s second play of the game. Still, the Falcons outrushed the Cowboys 132-107.
Dallas struggled while Elliott served the first-game of his six-game suspension for allegations of domestic abuse.
The Cowboys (5-4) set a season low with only 233 total yards. Dak Prescott was sacked eight times, a career high. He had been sacked 10 times in the Cowboys’ first eight games.
“When we got in those passing situations, we couldn’t slow them down,” Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. “We didn’t protect well enough, and they put too much pressure on Dak.”
Alfred Morris started for Elliott and had 11 carries for 53 yards. Rod Smith, used on passing downs, had four catches for only 15 yards and added three carries for 14 yards.
Coleman ran for 83 yards, including a touchdown, providing a template for Atlanta’s offense if Freeman misses time with his second concussion of the year. Freeman also missed the last two weeks of the preseason while in the concussion protocol.
Here are some more things to know about the Falcons’ win over the Cowboys:
ROUGH DAY FOR GREEN
Clayborn took advantage of Cowboys fill-in left tackle Chaz Green, who started when Tyron Smith was held out with back and groin injuries. Clayborn began to torment Green when he recorded two sacks of Prescott on the Cowboys’ opening drive. The struggles continued through Clayborn’s sixth sack in the final quarter.
“A lot of my issues were self-inflicted,” Green said. “It just hurts because I feel like I let the team down.”
Clayborn’s six sacks broke the Falcons record of five set by Chuck Smith and unofficially shared by Claude Humphrey. Smith had five sacks against the Saints on Oct. 12, 1997. Humphrey, in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, had two five-sack games before sacks became an official statistic.
Clayborn’s sixth sack, early in the fourth quarter, also produced his second forced fumble of the game. He had a forced fumble and recovery late in the first half.
Clayborn said he has trained in Smith’s pass-rush camp. Asked what he thought Smith would say about his record being broken, Clayborn said, “I’m sure I have a text.”
The spotlight was on Morris as Elliott’s replacement, but Morris became a non-factor as the Falcons’ lead grew.
“We became too one-dimensional,” Morris said. “We got behind. I take full ownership of that. We’ll learn from this game.”
The Falcons converted 7 of 13 third downs and scored on three of four possessions inside the Dallas 20. Those were successes in areas of emphasis for coach Dan Quinn in recent weeks.
“We’ve still got work to do, but I was pleased to see some of that work come through today, especially offensively,” Quinn said.
After starting the game without Smith, the Cowboys lost linebacker Sean Lee to a hamstring injury in the first quarter. Safety Jeff Heath was examined for a possible concussion.
“The next man up has to be ready on a moment’s notice,” Garrett said. “We didn’t handle the adversity of the day.”