ATLANTA (AP)—It took nearly 58 minutes for Michael Vick to break loose.
Fortunately for the Atlanta Falcons, the defense showed up right from the start.
“There’s going to be games where the defense carries us,” said Warrick Dunn, who rushed for 117 yards. “They won this game.”
It wasn’t pretty. There were nine fumbles (seven resulting in turnovers), five calls that had to be reviewed by the referee (two were overturned) and not one touchdown despite countless opportunities by both teams.
The Cardinals (0-3) lost three fumbles inside the Falcons 20.
“You can’t really have the words to describe your disappointment when you lose a game and fumble that many times,” said first-year Arizona coach Dennis Green, whose team has managed just 25 points and two touchdowns this season.
Using five-man fronts and mixing up their coverages, the Cardinals did a good job of containing Vick, who accounted for 288 yards rushing and passing in a victory over St. Louis the previous week.
He was sacked five times, lost two fumbles, threw an interception and completed just 10-of-20 passes for 115 yards.
“I know Denny Green said he had the plan to stop us, but we didn’t expect that,” Vick said. “It was frustrating. But I told my teammates that we’ve got to make a play, we’ve got to make a big play.”
Finally, he did. Vick ran for 58 yards on a bootleg—the longest carry of his career—to seal the victory with just over two minutes remaining.
“I was thinking about getting the first down and getting out of bounds,” he said. “But then I was thinking about the type of game I was having and decided I can make something happen. I wanted to score.”
Otherwise, Atlanta did its best to give the game away in the fourth quarter.
Dunn fumbled at the Atlanta 19 with 3:19 remaining, giving the Cardinals a chance to at least kick a tying field goal. Of course, they promptly gave the ball right back.
The Falcons teed off on one of the NFL’s most inept offenses. Rod Coleman forced McCown’s first two fumbles and Brady Smith finished off the Arizona quarterback with a blindside hit that led to another turnover early in the fourth quarter.
That was the last play for McCown. Shaun King finished up, but couldn’t rally the Cardinals.
“I understood the situation,” said McCown, who was 20-of-26 for 198 yards but took five sacks and numerous big hits. “I put the ball on the ground three times.”
The Falcons had six sacks, half of them by Patrick Kerney in a career-best performance.
“When (McCown) was doing more than three-step drops, we were putting some pretty heavy pops on him,” Kerney said. “He was looking pretty glassy eyed. That had an effect on him.”
On the Falcons’ first possession, Dunn got loose for a 60-yard run, but the offense bogged down inside the 10 and settled for Feely’s 25-yard field goal.
A 30-yard punt return by Allen Rossum set up Feely’s second field goal, a 23-yarder less than three minutes into the second period to cap Atlanta’s scoring.
The Falcons managed just 283 yards against the Cardinals, who gave up an average of 412.5 in their first two games—last in the NFL.
“We had a hard time,” tight end Alge Crumpler said. “But I don’t care. We won the ball game.”
Arizona hasn’t lost its first three games since 1996, but this season is shaping up like most others for this team. The Cardinals have only one winning year since 1985.
The Falcons managed to win with the fewest number of points in a victory, surpassing a 7-0 triumph at San Francisco in 1997.
“Every win is important,” Dunn said. “You’ve got to win these type of games to keep going as a team. We learned a lot of from this game. Never underestimate anyone.”
The Falcons are 3-0 for only the third time in their 39-year history. They hope to do better than the other two teams in this position, which both finished with losing records. … Arizona DT Ross Kolodziej sprained an ankle in the first half and didn’t return. … Atlanta has won five in a row going back to last season.