Published November 19, 2012
ATLANTA – The comparison of starting quarterbacks just didn't seem fair.
Arizona's John Skelton was benched after only five incompletions. Atlanta's Matt Ryan kept throwing after five interceptions.
Michael Turner scored the winning touchdown on a 1-yard run with 6:40 remaining, and Atlanta bounced back from its first loss of the season to rally past Arizona 23-19 Sunday, giving the Cardinals their sixth-straight loss.
Even in the ugliest of wins, Ryan managed to find himself linked with a legend. He became the first quarterback since Green Bay's Bart Starr in 1967 to win a game despite throwing five interceptions with no touchdowns, according to STATS LLC.
"That's good company to be in," Ryan said with a chuckle.
The Falcons (9-1), who clinched their fifth straight winning season, found a way to bounce back from the team's first loss at New Orleans.
Atlanta rallied after trailing the Cardinals 13-0 in the first quarter.
Coach Mike Smith stuck with Ryan, who led the 70-yard touchdown drive that gave Atlanta its first lead in the fourth quarter.
Ryan, who completed 28 of 48 passes for 301 yards, said it was important he remained confident for his teammates.
"I think that there are a lot of hats you wear as a quarterback," Ryan said. "Part of it is player, and part of it is keeping everybody on the same page and being relaxed."
Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald couldn't hang on to a fourth-down pass that would've given the feeble Cardinals a chance to pull it out.
The Falcons (9-1) turned it over a total of six times, but Ryan set up Turner's winning run with four completions for 64 yards, including a 9-yarder to Tony Gonzalez that was just short of the end zone. Turner scored on the next play.
Coming off a bye, the Cardinals (4-6) tried to bolster their anemic offense by switching quarterbacks, replacing Skelton with rookie Ryan Lindley. Arizona was held to only 178 yards.
"We said during the bye week we were going to make changes that we thought necessary, and that's what we're going to do going forward," Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
Lindley completed 9 of 20 passes for 64 yards with no interceptions and no touchdowns. He said he was "geeked up" and rushed his decisions in the first half.
"I was too excited," said Lindley, a sixth-round draft pick from San Diego State. "After that, I felt more calm. I think I made better decisions."
Skelton completed only 2 of 7 passes for 6 yards.
"We missed some throws when we had opportunities early," Whisenhunt said. "We're trying to win, so we gave Ryan a chance to make the throws."
The Cardinals took a 19-16 lead on Jay Feely's fourth field goal of the game, set up by Ryan's fourth interception — before the Falcons finally came alive on a 70-yard drive.
Ryan completed passes of 11 and 26 yards to Harry Douglas. Following an 18-yard completion to Roddy White, Ryan passed to Gonzalez, who stretched for the goal line, getting his helmet knocked off in the process.
The officials ruled him down about a foot short. Turner carried it in from there.
Arizona had one more chance, after Ryan had a pass deflected at the line, the ball wobbling into the arms of Cardinals linebacker Sam Acho at the Falcons 32.
On fourth-and-2 with just over 3 minutes remaining, Lindley threw a pass that Fitzgerald appeared to haul in at the 5 before tumbling out of bounds. But as he took a hit from William Moore, Fitzgerald rolled over and the ball came loose. The Falcons took over and ran out the clock.
"It's disappointing," Fitzgerald said. "I had an opportunity late in the game to make a play, and that is going to bother me for a while."
LaRod Stephens-Howling had 22 carries for 127 yards.
"It's extremely frustrating," Cardinals center Lyle Sendlein said. "If you would have told us yesterday we'd get the ball four or five times on their side of the 50, I'd have said, 'Yeah, we're going to beat them, and beat them by a large margin."
The turnover tone was set on the very first snap.
Ryan threw a little behind White, the ball bouncing off his hands and right into the arms of Arizona safety Rashad Johnson for the interception. He returned it to the Atlanta 9, and the Cardinals punched it in two plays later on a 3-yard run by Stephens-Howling.
Ryan threw two more interceptions before the first quarter was done, the second of which led to another field goal by Feely to make it 13-0.
John Abraham hit Lindley, forcing a fumble. Players on each side stood around, thinking it was an incomplete pass, before Abraham motioned for Jonathan Babineaux to pick up it up. Babineaux ran 15 yards for the touchdown.
"Multiple players told me they heard a whistle," Whisenhunt said.
NOTES: Stephens-Howling had only 184 yards rushing coming into the game. ... The Falcons lost CB Asante Samuel (right shoulder) in the first half, and WR Julio Jones (right ankle) hobbled off in the fourth quarter. .... Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson was slowed by a hamstring injury.
Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Follow Charles Odum on Twitter at www.twitter.com/CharlesOdum