Linebacker Daryl Washington tackles Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez during the Cards' 41-7 loss Sunday in Atlanta.
ATLANTA – Sometimes, the analysis is simple.
"We won't make excuses," Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said, after his team was hammered, 41-7, by the Falcons Sunday at the Georgia Dome. "We got a butt whooping. And sometimes, it takes a butt whooping."
The Cardinals (1-1) lost for the first time this season in a less-than-pleasing way. The defense had trouble slowing the Falcons (33 first downs, 221 yards rushing), the offense struggled (0-for-8 on third-down conversions) and crucial penalties hampered any chance the Cards had to make it a game.
It didn't make is easy in the locker room, but the message stayed the same – there is time to get better.
"It's just the second game," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "We have a chance to correct things and show we are better than that."
The Falcons lost their top two running backs Michael Turner (groin) and Jerious Norwood (knee), but it mattered little. Turner had 75 yards rushing on just nine carries before he left as a precaution, and third-stringer Jason Snelling (129 yards on 24 carries) had an impressive day.
So too did Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who completed 21-of-32 passes for 225 yards and tied a career-high with three touchdown passes.
Running back Tim Hightower did give the Cards brief encouragement after the Falcons had taken a 10-0 lead. On the Cards' first play from their own 20-yard line, Hightower broke off right tackle and sprinted 80 yards down the sideline for a touchdown – the longest such run by a Cardinal since John David Crow went 83 yards against Washington in 1958.
Hightower finished with 115 yards on only 11 carries, indicative of the issues the Cards still had on offense and from playing from behind all game.
Derek Anderson was hit a lot again by a blitzing defense, enough so that by the end of the blowout it made sense to give Max Hall his first NFL playing time. Hall's first pass was a three-yard completion. The second was intercepted.
Anderson, meanwhile, completed 17-of-31 passes for 161 yards and had two interceptions. He worked better with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (seven catches for 83 yards), but it wasn't nearly enough.
"We put ourselves in bad situations," Anderson said. "As a leader, I have to respond."
All the Cardinals do. The Falcons (1-1) were playing their home opener and were coming off a frustrating loss in Pittsburgh. They proceeded to dominate the line of scrimmage most of the game, keeping the Cards' defense off-balance.
The early penalties play huge roles in the direction of the game. A Kerry Rhodes personal foul jump-started the Falcons' first touchdown drive. A holding penalty negated a LaRod Stephens-Howling kickoff return for a touchdown. A questionable third-down pass interference call on cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie covering receiver Roddy White kept the Falcons' second TD drive alive. Rhodes was even ejected late in the game when he went to question an official and placed his hand on the official's shoulder.
But Dockett shied away from complaining about the officials and Whisenhunt said the Cards must improve in that area.
The Cardinals get their home opener next week against Oakland, and after two weeks on the road, that may be the perfect solution to rebound from the Atlanta trip.
"I thought today," Whisenhunt said, "we just didn't get it done."
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