(AP) – The Falcons hardly looked like one of the NFL’s best teams on Oct. 7.
The result was the same: another Atlanta victory.
Overcoming three interceptions by Matt Ryan, the Falcons remained unbeaten when Matt Bryant kicked a 55-yard field goal with 1 second remaining to give Atlanta a sloppy 23-20 win over the Oakland Raiders.
The Falcons (6-0) extended the best start in franchise history. It wasn’t easy against the pesky Raiders (1-4).
Atlanta pulled ahead when Asante Samuel returned an interception 79 yards for a touchdown with 2:40 remaining, only to wind up tied again when Carson Palmer led Oakland down the field for a tying score. Darren McFadden powered in from the 2 with 40 seconds left.
That was just enough time for Ryan and Bryant to pull off another fourth-quarter victory. Ryan completed four passes to set up the winning kick. He finished 24-of-37 for 249 yards and equaled his career high for picks, matching the three he had against New Orleans in 2009.
With the game tied at 13 and the clock winding down, the Raiders were in position for a go-ahead field goal. Then, on third-and-6 from the Atlanta 28, Palmer tried to hit Denarius Moore with a pass along the sideline. Samuel read it all the way, stepping in front of the receiver to make the pick and taking off the other way, right in front of the Atlanta bench.
The cornerback shook off a weak attempt at a tackle by Palmer around the 20 and strutted into the end zone, where he was pummeled by his teammates.
The Raiders weren’t done, though. Palmer completed two short passes before finding Derek Hagan breaking free down the sideline. Hagan hauled it in for a 38-yard completion and nearly scored, getting dragged out of bounds by Samuel.
Two plays later, McFadden finished off the drive.
But the Falcons had experience in these situations, rallying to beat Carolina just two weeks earlier on Bryant’s kick with 5 seconds left. This time, the 37-year-old connected on his longest field goal since joining the Falcons in 2009, putting it through with plenty to spare to give the Falcons another hard-fought win heading into their bye week.
Palmer was 23-of-33 for 353 yards. The Raiders rushed for 149 yards, more than double their NFL-worst average.
Ryan came into the game with three interceptions in the first five weeks. He doubled his total by halftime against the Raiders.
On the fourth snap of the game, Ryan went over the middle looking for Harry Douglas but didn’t see cornerback Joselio Hanson, who stepped in front of the receiver to make the pick.
Atlanta’s third possession ended the same way. Ryan made an ill-advised decision to throw deep to Julio Jones, despite triple coverage. Michael Huff made an easy interception at the Oakland 2 while Jones tumbled to the turf.
Late in the second quarter, with Atlanta clinging to a 7-6 lead, Ryan got popped by blitzing linebacker Philip Wheeler just as he released the ball. The fluttering pass settled right in the arms of safety Tyvon Branch, giving Oakland the ball at the Falcons 28.
The Raiders quickly seized on the big break. Palmer flipped a short pass to Moore, who took it all the way to the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown that gave Oakland a 13-7 lead at halftime.
Sebastian Janikowski put the Raiders ahead with a 52-yard field goal in the opening quarter, then Ryan connected with Roddy White on a 4-yard touchdown early in the second. Janikowski booted another field goal from 22 yards.
The third quarter turned into a defensive slog, the only points coming on two field goals by Bryant.
That set up the frenetic finish.
John Abraham had a huge day on the Falcons’ defense, sacking Palmer three times and putting the heat on him the entire game. Abraham gave the Falcons’ sputtering offense a chance to retake the lead in the third when he stripped the ball away from Palmer just before his right arm came forward.
Atlanta’s other defensive end, Ray Edwards, scooped up the fumble and rumbled to the Oakland 2.
But the Raiders held. After Ryan threw it away on first down, Michael Turner was stopped just short of the goal line. Then, after Oakland was called for offsides, the ball was moved even closer, the tip of the ball about as close to the end zone as it could get. Not close enough. Jason Snelling was thrown for a 2-yard loss on third down, forcing Atlanta to settle for Bryant’s 20-yard field goal that tied the game at 13.