Two teams that have several overlapping storylines in the NFC, had very different results in Week 9 and meet in Arlington this week.
The Dallas Cowboys (6-2) are looking to rebound following an embarrassing loss to Denver, as they face the Atlanta Falcons (4-4) who were able to get back to .500 with a win over New Orleans.
Here are five storylines for each team heading into Sunday's matchup at AT&T Stadium.
- Atlanta jumped out to a 24-6 lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter, and overcame a ferocious New Orleans comeback to win, 27-25. The Saints scored three times over the span of seven minutes in the fourth quarter to take a 25-24 lead on Atlanta with just over a minute to go. On the first play of the ensuing Falcons drive, Matt Ryan found Cordarrelle Patterson down field for 64 yards down to the New Orleans 11-yard line. Younghoe Koo then drilled a game-winning 29-yard field goal to avoid another heartbreaking Atlanta meltdown.
- The early hero to Atlanta's season has been the surprising resurgence of NFL journeyman and nine-year veteran Cordarrelle Patterson. The former first-round pick has shined in a hybrid running back/wide receiver role during his first year with the Falcons. Patterson leads the NFC in combined yards (1,069) and is only behind Derrick Henry and Jonathan Taylor in the entire NFL. Additionally, through just eight games he has scored twice on the ground and is top-10 in receiving touchdowns with five scores.
- The Falcons offense is missing a key piece to their high-flying puzzle of old with Calvin Ridley taking time away from football. Ridley announced his decision prior to the Week 8 matchup with Carolina and has been inactive over the last two weeks. This week, Atlanta added the wide receiver to the reserve-NFI list (non-football injury), which under league rules, means he must miss – at a minimum – three weeks. Ridley is in his fourth NFL season and has emerged as one of the league's top pass-catchers with over 1,300 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in 2020.
- Both the loss of Calvin Ridley for an indefinite amount of time along with the departure of Julio Jones in the offseason, Atlanta is stretched thin at the wide receiver spot. As the saying goes, hindsight is always 20/20, but dating back just one offseason ago the Atlanta Falcons passed on a chance to improve their receiver problems before they started. During the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Atlanta held the 16th overall pick and selected cornerback A.J. Terrell out of Clemson. This left Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb on the board, where the Cowboys selected him just one pick later.
- Each of the last six games that Atlanta has played have been decided by just a single score, including all four of their wins. Lost their first two games of the year in dominating fashion against Philadelphia and Tampa Bay and have since won four of their last six, all tightly contested ballgames. In the Week 9 win over New Orleans, it was a cast of unsung heroes that made the difference in an Atlanta win. The Falcons defense blanked the Saints in the first half behind strong performances from Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones and the forementioned A.J. Terrell.
- Back at AT&T stadium for the first time in four weeks, the Cowboys were unable to overcome a slow start in a 30-16 loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 9. Dallas was undefeated through their first three home games of 2021 and had not lost a game in nearly 60 days as a part of a six-game winning streak. They were held 90 yards under their previous season low in total yards, and allowed a season-high 190 yards on the ground to the Broncos run game.
- It's safe to say that Dak Prescott's return from a calf strain suffered in Week 6 against New England, did not go to plan. Prescott, along with the entire offense, struggled to find a rhythm with just a 19 for 39 passing mark and 232 yards through the air. The struggle began early as Denver forced him off his spot and out of the pocket by getting pressure on three-man and four-man rushes. Terence Steele received the start at left tackle and struggled to protect Prescott's blindside, but the entire offensive line struggled in the loss.
- One of the bright spots for the Cowboys this season has been the resurgence of the defense underneath coordinator Dan Quinn. Quinn faces his former team for the first time since being relieved of his head coaching duties in the middle of the 2020 campaign. He spent six seasons as the Falcons head coach and led them to a pair of playoff appearances and a trip to Super Bowl LI, which they lost to the Patriots.
- Along with Quinn, both Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee get their first crack at their former team this week as well. Both defenders were signed this offseason with the intention of making the transition to Quinn's scheme easier by adding experienced veterans on the back end. Neal has played at least 20 snaps in each of the game he's been active for but missed Week 3 and 4 on the COVID/Reserve list. Kazee on the other hand has been a key contributor at the free safety spot throughout the year playing for over 430 snaps.
- Sunday will be the first meeting with Atlanta since Dan Quinn's Falcons put up 29 first half points and built a 20-point lead, before falling to the Cowboys late thanks to a massive second half comeback and the famous "Watermelon Kick" from Greg Zuerlein. With just 1:49 left in the fourth quarter, Dallas trailed 39-37 when Zuerlein placed the ball horizontally on the ground prior to an onside kick try, rather than upright on the tee. He then struck the ball on the nose sending it in a unique spin that froze the Atlanta special teams unit just long enough that C.J. Goodwin recovered it. The Cowboys then drove within' field goal range for Greg Zuerlein, who hit a 46-yard field goal to win as time expired.