When a team is mired in an extended losing streak, as the Cardinals are, one play can often make all the difference.
Sunday was no exception.
Although the Cardinals raced out to a 13-0 lead in the first quarter behind three interceptions, momentum was slowly shifting in the Falcons’ direction midway through the second quarter.
On a third-and-2 from the Cardinals’ 21-yard line, rookie Ryan Lindley went back to pass but was hit hard from behind by veteran defensive end John Abraham.
While Lindley’s arm appeared to be moving forward, the ball squirted free to his right and was picked up without a fight by Atlanta’s Jonathan Babineaux, who calmly raced 15 yards to the end zone for a defensive touchdown.
The touchdown cut the Cardinals’ lead to 13-10, and the Falcons would go on to score 13 of the final 19 points in the contest for their ninth victory of the season.
Head coach Ken Whisenhunt thought the play should have been ruled an incompletion not a fumble, but head referee Bill Vinovich disagreed.
“[Vinovich] said he didn’t see it that way,” Whisenhunt said. “To me the hand was moving forward when the ball came out. That’s a rule that’s been scrutinized in the NFL. It was a tight call.”
What was most surprising about the play was that when the ball went to the Georgia Dome turf, not a single Arizona player made a move towards the ball.
“Multiple players told me they heard a whistle,” said Whisenhunt. “It seemed like everybody stopped playing except for one or two guys. There were players running on the field from both sidelines. It was definitely a strange play.”
Babineaux’s touchdown was the second defensive score the Cardinals have given up during their six-game losing streak.