By Darrell Baker
ATLANTA – Defensive end Adrian Clayborn recorded a franchise-record six sacks to lead a dominant Atlanta Falcons defensive effort to a 27-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, playing without suspended running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Not only did Clayborn set the franchise record for sacks in a game, he was also one sack shy of tying the National Football League record, set when the late Derrick Thomas had seven sacks for the Kansas City Chiefs in a game against Seattle in 1990. Clayborn’s play helped Atlanta to hold Dallas’ offense to 233 yards total yards, its lowest output of the season.
The biggest of those six sacks for Clayborn came just before the end of the second quarter, when he stripped Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott and recovered the fumble in Atlanta territory as the Cowboys were driving for a last-second score, preserving a slim 10-7 lead for the Falcons going into halftime.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan threw an early interception that led to the Cowboys’ only score, but settled down after that to throw for 215 yards and two touchdowns. His 3-yard touchdown pass to Justin Hardy in the third quarter gave the Falcons a 17-7 lead, and it also marked Ryan becoming the fastest quarterback to reach the 40,000-yard passing plateau in NFL history (151 games).
Ryan also threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Austin Hooper in the fourth quarter, giving the Falcons a 24-7 lead.
Atlanta was also able to establish a running game despite the fact that starting running back Devonta Freeman left the game in the second quarter with a concussion and did not return. Tevin Coleman and Terron Ward split duties in the backfield and combined for 106 yards on the ground. Coleman ran for 83 yards on 20 carries, the most rushing yards he has had in a game since last Dec. 24 in a win for the Falcons against Carolina.
After an initial injunction allowed Elliott, who was initially given a six-game suspension for violation of the NFL’s personal conduct policy during the offseason, to be eligible to play the first eight games, a New York appellate court on Monday denied his most recent request for injunction, clearing the way for his suspension to be reinstated. Alfred Morris started in the backfield in place of Elliott, and he ran for 53 yards on 11 carries. Elliott is not eligible to return to the Cowboys until December 24.
The bigger absence on offense for the Cowboys might have been left tackle Tyron Smith, missing the game due to groin and back injuries. Clayborn recorded four of his six sacks while lined up in front of Smith’s replacement, Chaz Green.
Prescott completed 20-of-30 passes for 176 yards, while providing the Cowboys’ only score of the game on an 11-yard touchdown run in the first quarter after Ryan’s interception.
The Falcons travel to CentruryLink Field to play the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football next week.
Notes: NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Monday that Clayborn’s six sacks earned him a $750,000 incentive bonus for reaching eight on the season. ESPN first reported the contract incentives.
*Adesina O. Koiki contributed to this story