Cowboys-Falcons Preview


While others might get wrapped up in their status as the NFL's only unbeaten team, coach Mike Smith and the Atlanta Falcons are trying to maintain a different focus.

The Falcons seek to improve to 8-0 on Sunday night when the potentially short-handed Dallas Cowboys visit the Georgia Dome.

Following three tension-filled wins by a combined 12 points, Atlanta (7-0) posted a decisive 30-17 victory over Philadelphia and former Falcons quarterback Michael Vick last Sunday. After spending a portion of their bye week working on the fundamentals, the Falcons allowed a season-low 270 yards while extending the franchise's best start.

"The (previous games) we didn't play as well as we could have," safety Thomas DeCoud said. "But now we're starting to hit our stride."

They jumped out to a 24-7 halftime lead behind three Matt Ryan touchdown passes, including a 63-yarder to Julio Jones, after Ryan had matched a career high with three interceptions in the previous game against Oakland.

In the win over the Eagles, Ryan completed a season-high 75.9 percent of his passes (22 of 29) and Smith collected a franchise-best 50th win in his 71st game with Atlanta.

"We've been fortunate to have a very successful season, play some efficient football," Smith said. "Everyone else is going to concern themselves with (the unbeaten record). We've got to make sure we're preparing for the next game."

The next game will come against a Cowboys team that's dropped three of four, including a 29-24 home loss to NFC East-leading New York last Sunday. Dallas (3-4) nearly pulled off the largest comeback in team history - erasing a 23-0 deficit - but couldn't maintain a one-point lead entering the fourth quarter.

Tony Romo threw for a career-high 437 yards but also had four interceptions. The Cowboys committed six turnovers - their most in one game in five years - but still appeared to score the winning touchdown in the final minute before Dez Bryant's 37-yard catch was overturned on a replay.

"It's to that point in the season where you don't have time," said tight end Jason Witten, who had a franchise-record 18 catches for 167 yards. "Nobody cares about battling. They don't. They want to see you win. ... The clock's ticking. You have to be able to find a way to get on top."

The Cowboys might have to try to do that again without leading rusher DeMarco Murray, who has missed the past two games with a foot injury. Felix Jones had 19 yards on 13 carries in his place Sunday and lost a key fumble in the fourth quarter.

Jones was limited in practice Wednesday by an ailing knee. Bryant (hip) and fellow receiver Kevin Ogletree (hamstring) were held out along with Murray.

"Injuries are inevitable in the NFL," coach Jason Garrett said. "You look all around the league and teams have to deal with them. The teams that have the best depth are usually the teams playing at the end of the year."

If those players are out or limited, the Cowboys might need Witten's help more than ever. The tight end may have some extra motivation as he's only four catches shy of surpassing Michael Irvin's career franchise record of 750.

"He was one of the greatest. So just to be mentioned with Michael Irvin is special," Witten said. "But really until then, my focus is on trying to help this team win."

Witten has 43 receptions for 411 yards over his last four games after making eight catches for 76 yards in his first three contests following a recovery from a lacerated spleen.

His 747 receptions and 8,396 yards are both the third-most by a tight end in NFL history behind Falcons star Tony Gonzalez - who can reach 1,200 catches with five Sunday - and Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe.

Witten's first NFL reception came during a 27-13 loss to Atlanta on Sept. 7, 2003, and the Cowboys have won the two matchups since then. Miles Austin caught two of Romo's three TDs and had 171 yards in a 37-21 home win in 2009, and Dallas rallied for a 38-28 victory during its most recent visit to the Georgia Dome in 2006.

The Falcons won't have linebacker Sean Weatherspoon available for this matchupdue to a right ankle injury. Weatherspoon is second on the team in tackles and sacks.

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