- Associated Press - Sunday, November 27, 2016

ATLANTA (AP) - Taylor Gabriel plays as if he’s got something to prove.

No surprise there.

He’s one of the smallest guys on the field and couldn’t even keep a job with the winless Cleveland Browns.

Landing firmly on his feet in Atlanta, Gabriel turned a couple of short passes into long touchdowns that sparked the Falcons to a 38-19 victory Sunday over the plummeting Arizona Cardinals.

The 5-foot-8, 165-pound Gabriel was cut by the Browns just before the season. That motivated him even more after he was claimed off waivers by the Falcons.

“I’m shorter than all you guys here,” he told reporters gathered around his locker, “so I have to play with a chip on my shoulder. I have to play bigger than I am. I have to go out there and show people what I can do on a week-to-week basis.

Gabriel scored on plays of 35 and 25 yards that showed off his speed. His second score , with just under 9 minutes remaining, finished off the Cardinals, who began the season touted as a Super Bowl contender but have been one of the NFL’s most disappointing teams.

“I felt like they were running in slow motion,” Gabriel quipped.

The Falcons (7-4) began the day leading the NFC South and moved a step closer to their first playoff berth since 2012.

“We recognize the opportunity we have at hand,” coach Dan Quinn said.

The Cardinals (4-6-1) have lost two straight and three of their past four, putting them in danger of missing the playoffs after reaching the NFC championship game last season.

Coach Bruce Arians was on the sideline after falling ill and being briefly hospitalized early in the week, but it did little to inspire his team.

“There’s not much you can take positive from this game,” Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald said.

Arizona got off to a strong start, burning the Falcons for eight plays of at least 13 yards on its first two possessions for a 10-7 lead.

The Falcons surged ahead late in the first half when Matt Ryan tossed a screen pass to Gabriel, who picked up a couple of key blocks and outran everyone else to the end zone for his first score.

Arizona cut it to 17-13 when Chris Catanzaro hit a 54-yard field goal on the final play of the half, the Cardinals taking advantage of an interception off a bobbled pass by Atlanta star Julio Jones.

The Cardinals never got any closer.

Tevin Coleman’s 2-yard touchdown run capped a 13-play, 77-yard drive that extended Atlanta’s lead to 24-13 late in the third quarter.

Then it was Gabriel with the clinching score. He took another quick pass in the flat, sped down the left sideline and reached the pylon with a soaring dive.

It was the kind of play that helped the Falcons counter Arizona’s attacking defense, which came in ranked No. 1 in yards allowed.

“We felt his presence. We certainly felt his speed,” Quinn said. “When the other team wants to pressure and play aggressive, that’s one of the weapons you use. Man, did he come up big for us.”

The Falcons finished with 360 yards, the most given up by the Cardinals since Week 1. No one has scored more points on Arizona this season.

KEANU’S HIT

After being fined for a vicious hit in Atlanta’s previous game, rookie safety Keanu Neal could be taking another blow to his wallet.

Neal was penalized in the fourth quarter for unnecessary roughness against Fitzgerald.

It looked as though both players lowered their helmets before making contact, but it was Neal picking up the flag.

Neal was fined $24,309 for his helmet-to-helmet blow on Philadelphia receiver Jordan Matthews.

INJURY REPORT

Arizona lost backup receiver John Brown to a hamstring injury, while Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn went down with a knee injury.

Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer was taken to the X-ray room at the Georgia Dome after the game, but it was apparently just a precautionary measure. He met with reporters at his locker and didn’t mention any problems.

Cornerback Patrick Peterson played the game with a sore left knee. He was called for two pass interference penalties trying to defend Jones, both of which contributed to scores.

“I don’t know what the diagnosis is right now, but I can’t put too much pressure on it,” Peterson said.

UP NEXT

Cardinals: Return home to face Washington next Sunday.

Falcons: Host the Kansas City Chiefs, the only team remaining on Atlanta’s schedule with a winning record.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .

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For more NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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