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Blough Gives Cardinals A Chance, But Falcons Still Pull Out Win

Field goal on game's final play gives Atlanta a 20-19 victory

Cardinals QB David Blough throws a pass against the Falcons during a game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 1, 2023.
Cardinals QB David Blough throws a pass against the Falcons during a game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on January 1, 2023.

ATLANTA -- What happens at quarterback for the Cardinals next season, at least early on, is murky.

Kyler Murray will have to have his ACL surgery this week, and eventually, a timetable will emerge.

But in the meantime – and if the Cardinals have to have a QB not named Murray to begin the season – there are decisions to be made. Colt McCoy is a possibility. Beyond him? David Blough would like to remain in the room if he can. The way he played Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium figures to help his cause.

The Cardinals (4-12) still lost the game to the Falcons, 20-19, when Younghoe Koo booted a 21-yard field goal on the game's final play. It offset a good defensive day despite a shorthanded roster, and offset an impressive 57-yard Matt Prater field goal with less than three minutes left to earn a lead.

But if Kliff Kingsbury – and the front office – wanted to get a look at Blough, it was worth it.

"It frustrating to lose," said Blough, who last started in 2019 with the Lions. "My job is to help us win the football game. We had to settle for too many field goals."

But, Blough added, "I started five games in Detroit and that didn't end like I wanted them to, and I knew then my best football was in front of me."

There was some good. Aside from Blough, rookie tight end Trey McBride had the best game of his young career, making seven receptions for 78 yards and his first NFL touchdown.

"I am obviously building confidence out there," McBride said. "I feel comfortable out there."

Running back James Conner had 79 yards rushing on 16 carries and another 31 yards on three catches, despite leaving the game in the fourth quarter with a shin injury.

Conner said he thought he'd be OK but didn't commit to being able to play in the finale in San Francisco next week. Losing Conner from the offense – which didn't have DeAndre Hopkins (knee) and had fellow receiver Marquise Brown also leave in the fourth quarter with a potentially problematic arm injury – will make things that much harder.

Kingsbury said he planned to decide this coming week if it was Blough or Trace McSorley who would get the start against the 49ers to finish things up, but after Sunday, it would seem like Blough would be the pick.

"He battled," Kingsbury said of the quarterback who completed 24-of-40 passes for 222 yards, one touchdown and no turnovers. "He's only been here two weeks, he didn't have a chance to practice much last week – he got reps Friday – and I thought he handled himself well.

"I was impressed."

The Falcons (6-10) did just enough to undercut Blough's story from having a happy ending. Matt Prater crushed a 57-yard field goal with 2:57 left – Prater's fourth field goal of the day – to give the Cardinals the two-point lead.

But the Falcons moved the ball 29 yards on their first two plays, and with an offsides call on J.J. Watt, they were well on their way to what turned out to be the field goal they needed. The Cardinals did have the Falcons in a third-and-7 at the Arizona 27 with two minutes left, but surrendered a 14-yard completion that let Atlanta burn away the rest of the clock.

"Most of the times they scored was due to use beating ourselves," said Isaiah Simmons, who was a full-time safety after the season-ending injury to Budda Baker. "Almost for sure, every point they scored, every drive they had, there was a penalty from us. We've got to be more disciplined."

There is only one chance left to do that.

"They've all felt that way to me," Kingsbury said about his optimism the Cardinals were going to win Sunday. "I'm pretty positive in that regard."

Guys like Blough, McBride and Conner help give something to pay attention to as the season winds down. The 49ers potentially will be playing for a high playoff seed next week. The Cardinals, who have lost six straight, for the future.

"(Today) doesn't sink us," Conner said. "You can't win them all."