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Falcons overcome slow start, improve to 8-0 with 19-13 win over Cowboys

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Matt Ryan made plays when he had to. (Getty Images)

Michael Turner's 3-yard touchdown run with 14:21 to play in the fourth quarter broke a 6-6 tie and propelled the Atlanta Falcons to a 19-13 win over the Dallas Cowboys, keeping the Falcons a perfect 8-0 on the 2012 season.

Held to just 23 yards rushing on 11 carries, including 18 yards on eight attempts by Turner, in the first half, the Falcons broke through for 100 yards on 15 rushing plays in the final 30 minutes. Most of that yardage came via a 43-yard scamper by Turner with 1:29 to play in the third quarter, a play that helped set-up Turner's touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter.

Turner finished the night with 20 carries for 102 yards, going over 100 yards for the 30th time in his career and 27th time since joining the Falcons as a free agent in 2008.

"Our offensive line hung in there," Ryan told NBC's Michele Tafoya about the tale of two halves night the Falcons' running game had. "They kept grinding, we kept wearing them down in the front seven and Mike [Turner] and our running backs did great job in the second half of getting through the initial contact."

Ryan completed 24 of 34 pass attempts for 342 yards, with nearly half (16) of his passes targeted towards the talented receiving tandem of Roddy White and Julio Jones. White caught a team-high seven passes for 119 yards, while Jones hauled in five passes for a game-high 129 yards. Running back Jacquizz Rodgers added four receptions for 53 yards, using his elusive running ability to flip the field on a 31-yard catch-and-run on a third-and-6 play from the Falcons' own 24-yard line. On the same drive, juking out a Cowboys defender to convert a third-and-5 that allowed Atlanta to drain another two minutes off the clock before kicker Matt Bryant's fourth field goal of the night extended the Falcons' lead to six points.

"I'm surrounded by two of the best players in the league," Ryan said of White and Jones after the game. "I've got more of them at different positions, too, but these guys (White and Jones) are special and I'm lucky to be around them."

The Cowboys used a pair of big plays to help up a six-point lead on a pair of first-quarter field goals by Dan Bailey.

A 37-yard punt return by wide receiver Dwayne Harris, who has replaced Dez Bryant as the primary punt returner, gave the Cowboys the ball at the Falcons' 32-yard line for their opening position. Atlanta's defense would hold the Cowboys to a 23-yard field goal by Bailey. The Falcons had an opportunity to even the score, but Bryant's 37-yard field goal sailed wide right. On Dallas' next possession, quarterback Tony Romo bought himself some extra time and connected with Kevin Ogletree for 65-yards on a third-and-20 play that put the Cowboys inside the Falcons' red zone. A short run by backup running back Lance Dunbar and a pair of Romo incompletions were followed by a 32-yard field goal by Bailey.

Bryant put the Falcons on the scoreboard with 14:19 to play in the first half and his 46-yard field goal as time expired had both teams entering halftime tied at six. The score remained tied throughout the third quarter as Bryant missed a second field goal attempt of the night, a 43-yard attempt that once again sailed to the right. That was Bryant's first miss from under 40 yards since Oct. 10, 2010.

After Dallas went three-and-out following Turner's touchdown, Bryant capped off a nine-play, 62-yard drive with a 36-yard field to extend the Falcons' lead to 16-6. Romo would answer by completing all six of his attempts on a quick, six-play, 78-yard drive that ended when he connected with Ogletree in the end zone to cut the Falcons' lead to three points. Atlanta responded with a 12-play, 66-yard drive that chewed up 5:04 of the fourth quarter game clock before Bryant drilled a 32-yard field goal that sealed the game with 17 seconds remaining.

Romo played turnover-free football, completing 25 of 35 attempts for 321 yards and the one touchdown. Miles Austin was Romo's top target, catching seven passes for 76 yards, while Witten added seven receptions of his own for 51 yards. Witten now has 751 receptions in his career, making the Cowboys' all-time leader in that category.

By improving to 8-0, the Falcons maintain their four-game lead over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC South, and are now 5 ½ games ahead of the New Orleans Saints, who they will face next Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. With the loss, the Cowboys are now 3-5 and sit 2 ½ games behind the division-leading New York Giants. Dallas is on the road next week against the Philadelphia Eagles before returning for a three-game home stand that extends into early December.

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