ATLANTA — Adrian Clayborn set an Atlanta record with six sacks, Matt Ryan threw a pair of short touchdown passes and the Falcons romped to a 27-7 victory Sunday over the Dallas Cowboys, who looked anemic offensively in their first game without suspended running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Ryan hooked up with Justin Hardy on a 3-yard pass for Atlanta’s first offensive touchdown in the third quarter this season . Early in the fourth, Ryan put the game away for the Falcons (5-4) by tossing one to Austin Hooper for a 1-yard score.
While the Cowboys (5-4) sure missed Elliott, who finally began serving a six-game suspension for allegations of domestic abuse after three legal reprieves, they really noticed the absence of left tackle Tyron Smith. He sat out the game with back and groin injuries, leaving third-year player Chaz Green to protect Dak Prescott’s blind side.
It didn’t go well for Dallas. Beating Green time after time, Clayborn forced two fumbles , recovered one of them and surpassed the team record of five sacks, held by Chuck Smith and Hall of Famer Claude Humphrey.
Even more impressively, Clayborn’s performance matched second-most sacks in NFL history. Derrick Thomas, Osi Umenyiora and Fred Dean are the only other players credited with six sacks in a game, while Thomas holds the league record with seven sacks for Kansas City against the Seahawks on Nov. 11, 1990.
Clayborn had more sacks in this game than any other season in his career except for his rookie year in 2011 when he had 7.5. He came into Sunday with 20.5 sacks in his seven-year career.
Dallas jumped ahead 7-0 on Prescott’s 11-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, which was set up by Xavier Woods’ interception off a deflected pass.
The Falcons took control from there.
After Matt Bryant’s 50-yard field goal, Tevin Coleman powered over from the 1 to give Atlanta a 10-7 halftime lead.
The third quarter was a trouble spot for the Falcons, whose only touchdown in the period had come way back in Week 2 on Desmond Trufant’s return of a fumble against the Green Bay Packers. Atlanta had managed only one field goal in the third over its previous five games, a major reason for the Falcons losing four of those contests.
Coleman, who took over the running duties after Devonta Freeman went out early in the game with a concussion, got the Falcons rolling on the first play of the second half with a 17-yard romp. Ryan went to Julio Jones with a 24-yard pass on the next play, and just like that Atlanta was in Dallas territory.
On third-and-goal at the 3, Hardy slipped free in the back of the end zone and hauled in the scoring pass that pushed Atlanta’s lead to 17-7.
Dallas’ last hope faded away when Mike Nugent, filling in for injured kicker Dan Bailey, clanked a 38-yard field goal attempt off the upright late in the third quarter.
Atlanta marched right down the field again. Ryan went to Taylor Gabriel on a 34-yard pass before connecting with Hooper from the 1.
With Elliott out, the Cowboys started former Pro Bowler Alfred Morris at running back. He carried 11 times for 53 yards, while Prescott had 42 yards on six carries.
Freeman was hurt on Atlanta’s second offensive play. After gaining one yard on first down, he took a blow to the side of the head from Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens.
Freeman was wobbly after the hit and walked off the field with the help of trainers. After a brief stint in the observation tent, he was taken to the locker room and didn’t return.
Dallas linebacker Sean Lee also went out in the first quarter with a hamstring injury.
Cowboys: Return home to face the NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles in a prime-time game next Sunday.
Falcons: Travel to Seattle to take on the Seahawks in a Monday night game.