Patrick Peterson traded punches with Falcons star receiver Julio Jones before the Cardinals cornerback left late in the fourth quarter of Arizona’s 38-19 loss on a balky left leg.
Head coach Bruce Arians said Peterson was only dealing with cramps and had a minor knee ding Sunday.
Regardless, the beat up cornerback had been targeted by Atlanta more than most teams would dare. It was a symbolically harsh result after Peterson held Jones, the NFL’s total receiving yardage leader to start Sunday, to four catches for 35 yards on seven targets.
The Cardinals’ defensive woes weren’t on their best player.
Eight Falcons caught balls with Mohamed Sanu earning one more target than Jones’ seven. Sanu caught all eight thrown his way for 65 yards, while backup 5-foot-8 receiver Taylor Gabriel caught two screen passes that turned into 25- and 35-yard touchdowns.
Three times, Atlanta followed a Cardinals score with one of their own.
“Great defenses don’t do that,” Arians told Arizona Sports 98.7’s Paul Calvisi afterward. “They don’t let other teams score after you score.”
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan one-upped Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer with 26 completions. Both had two touchdowns and an interception, but Ryan did so on 11 fewer attempts.
Arizona also struggled to contain Atlanta’s rushing attack, which allowed a 27-yard run to Gabriel and 60 yards and two touchdowns by Devonta Freeman.
Still, Peterson’s outing said as much in the matchup under the microscope.
One play after Jones made a 15-yard, second-down reception in the third quarter, Peterson motioned to be removed from the game after chasing down tight end Levine Toilolo with 7:38 remaining in the period. Tharold Simon took over for Peterson briefly, but Peterson returned for several more series before Arizona appeared to pull him for good when the game was out of reach.
Jones caught three passes for 20 yards on four targets in the first half. Meanwhile, Peterson earned two pass interference penalties.
The first came on the Falcons’ opening drive on 3rd-and-goal at the Arizona 2-yard line. The Cardinals corner held Jones’ jersey and then made contact with him as he battled down the pass.
Atlanta scored on the very next play to tie the game, 7-7.
On the Falcon’s next possession, Peterson’s second interference penalty on 3rd-and-15 at Arizona’s 38-yard line negated a stop and gave Atlanta a first down. The Falcons finished the drive with a chip-shot field goal to tie the game, 10-10, once again.
A Jones bobble near the end of the first half, however, resulted in a huge swing in the Cardinals’ favor.
During Atlanta’s two-minute drill, Cardinals safety D.J. Swearinger picked off the tipped ball off Jones’ mitts with 25 left in the first half at the Cardinals’ 31-yard line. Arizona scored a field goal to trail just 17-13 at the half, but Atlanta would pull away with three second-half touchdowns to put the 4-6-1 Cardinals on the brink of officially missing the postseason.