Veteran Kurt Warner threw a pair of long touchdown passes and Arizona capitalized on costly mistakes by Atlanta rookie Matt Ryan on Saturday as the Cardinals downed the Falcons 30-24 in the NFL playoffs.
The Cardinals’ victory in the National Conference wild card round ended what had been a fairytale season for the Falcons.
The Falcons were hoping to press on with a season that had seen them rebound from a 4-12 2007 campaign over shadowed by quarterback Michael Vick’s imprisonment for funding a dogfighting ring.
But Warner connected with scoring passes of 42 yards to Larry Fitzgerald and 71 to Anquan Boldin as the Cardinals advanced to next weekend’s second round at either the Carolina Panthers or the top-seeded New York Giants.
While the Cardinals had locked up their playoff berth early, they struggled down the stretch with four defeats in their last five regular-season games.
Arizona took control of the game in the third quarter against error-prone Atlanta.
Antrel Rolle returned a fumbled snap 27 yards for a touchdown in the opening minute of the second half to put Arizona ahead for good 21-17.
Rookie Tim Hightower capped a long scoring drive with a four-yard run to make it 28-17 with 2:48 to go in the third.
Atlanta’s rookie quarterback Ryan then made matters worse when his long pass down the right sideline was intercepted by rookie cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Arizona defensive end Antonio Smith sacked Ryan in the end zone for a safety that padded the margin to 30-17
Ryan got the Falcons within 30-24 with a five-yard scoring pass to Roddy White with 4:15 to play. But Atlanta couldn’t get the ball back.