Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) is sacked by Arizona Cardinals linebacker Marcus Benard (59) and defensive end Frostee Rucker (98) during the first half at University of Phoenix Stadium. (Photo: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Andre Ellington wasn't built to be an every-down running back, according to Arizona coach Bruce Arians, who believes the Cardinals rookie has the talent but not the desired body to carry the ball 20 or more times a game.
Arians may have to rethink that observation after watching the speedy Ellington run for 154 yards on 15 carries Sunday, including an 80-yard touchdown scamper, as Arizona wore down the Atlanta Falcons 27-13 at University of Phoenix Stadium.
It was the first time since last November the Cardinals had a running back rush for 100 yards. Ellington started Sunday in place of veteran Rashard Mendehall, who didn't play because of a toe injury that has nagged him for much of the season.
Healthy or not, Mendenhall might have a problem getting his job back after Ellington's performance.
Arians said he would review the game tape before making any evaluations, but he said the victory was hatched Monday when he put his players in pads and ran them through a heavy-contact practice.
"We had a training camp practice," he said. "A lot of teams would balk at that, but our leadership and our veterans, we had the best practice we've had all year. It set the tempo for this game, and it set the tempo for the rest of this season."
The Cardinals (4-4) snapped a two-game losing skid. They outgained the Falcons 348 yards to 292, and they held Atlanta to 27 rushing yards on 14 total carries.
The Falcons (2-5) lost for the fourth time in five games, further distancing themselves from any thought of returning to the playoffs after reaching the NFC Championship Game last season.
The Cardinals intercepted Matt Ryan four times, making it look a little reminiscent of last year's game, when they picked off Ryan five times. Atlanta pulled out that game, 23-19, but not this one.
"We have to continue to dig and dig out of the hole we're in," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "We did not play very good football today."
Playing without several regulars because of injuries, including star receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, the Falcons tried to make do with Harry Douglas (12 catches, 121 yards) and veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez (three catches, 26 yards).
It clearly wasn't enough on a day when Cardinals perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald become the youngest player to reach 800 career receptions. He set the record with a 17-yard catch at the end of the third quarter, reaching the 800 milestone at 30 years, 57 days.
"It was great to get it in a team win -- and everyone contributed," Fitzgerald said. "It was a total group effort. Coach (Arians) talked about everybody doing their job and stepping up and making plays when given the opportunity."
As for being the youngest to 800 catches, Fitzgerald said, "Jerry Rice got 1,000 catches after he turned 30, so I'm a long way from where I need to be."
Fitzgerald finished the game with four receptions for 48 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown grab. That was the first of three touchdowns the Cardinals scored in the second quarter against an Atlanta defense that had problems tackling all day.
Following Matt Bryant's second field goal that cut the deficit to 7-6, the Cardinals got the ball at their own 20-yard line. On the first play, Ellington ran to his right, waited for his blocks to develop, then scampered outside for his 80-yard touchdown.
Only two running backs in team history had longer scoring runs -- John David Crow (83 yards in 1959) and Elmer Angsman (82 yards in 1947).
On the Cardinals' next possession, they drove 78 yards on six plays, capped by a 15-yard touchdown pass from Carson Palmer to Michael Floyd that gave Arizona a 21-6 halftime lead.
Palmer overcame an early first-quarter interception, his 14th of the season, and finished 13-for-18 for 172 yards and two touchdowns.
Ryan completed 34 of 61 passes for 301 yards. The four interceptions were one more than he had all season coming into this game.
"I can't do it," Ryan said of the interceptions. "You can't make those plays and expect your team to win. You can't make those plays and think you're giving your team a chance to win. I have to clean those up. I've got to find a way to make sure those don't happen again."
In addition to picking him off, the Cardinals also supplied a fair amount of pressure on Ryan, sacking him four times and hitting him on at least a dozen other plays. John Abraham, the NFL's all-time sack leader among active players, had one of the sacks against his former team.
Abraham left the game in the fourth quarter after taking a hit to the head and did not return. He said he passed concussion tests after the game and that he was fine.
After Jay Feely converted his second field-goal attempt of the game in the middle of the fourth quarter, Ryan finally guided the Falcons into the end zone with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Drew Davis with 4:38 left, completing the scoring.
NOTES: Cardinals S Rashad Johnson, who lost the tip of his left middle finger during a game earlier this season, had two of the team's four interceptions. ... The Falcons were without starting LT Sam Baker because of a knee injury. Lamar Holmes started in his place. ... Even though Mendenhall did not play, the Cardinals did not activate RB Ryan Williams for the game. Williams was among the inactives for the eighth consecutive week. ... Cardinals backup G Earl Watford, who hurt his knee last week when he was rear-ended in a car accident, did not play. ... Gonzalez extended his streak with at least one reception to 202 consecutive games. Fitzgerald ran his streak to 141 straight games with at least one catch.