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Falcons 31, Cardinals 30

August 24, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ Craig Heyward scored three touchdowns for Atlanta and the Falcons held off a furious Arizona rally in the fourth quarter for a 31-30 victory Friday night in their final exhibition game.

Trailing 31-10 early in the final period, the Cardinals’ backup quarterback, Kent Graham, threw three touchdown passes, the last a 2-yarder to Duane Young with 18 seconds remaining.

Arizona went for the victory, but third-string running back Ryan Terry was stopped short of the goal line by Lorenzo Styles on a 2-point try. The Cardinals recovered the onsides kick, but two incompletions by Graham ended the game.

Graham finished 13-of-24 for 200 yards, also throwing TD passes of 18 yards to Anthony Edwards and 19 yards to Kevin Jordan when it looked the Falcons had sealed the victory.

Jeff George completed 14-of-18 passes for 134 yards in a brief stint for the Falcons and Heyward, a 1,000-yard rusher last season, scored twice on short runs and had a TD catch.

Atlanta (2-2) closed the exhibition season with two straight victories, both coming after George ended his contract holdout. He threw for 233 yards and two touchdowns last week against Oakland and looked nearly as impressive against Arizona (1-3).

Even though he only played through the first series of the second quarter, George led the Falcons on two scoring drives with the Cardinals trying futilely to stop Atlanta’s four-receiver, run-and-shoot offense with a basic 4-3-4 defense.

George completed five passes for 49 yards on the Falcons’ first possession before Heyward finished off the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.

Atlanta’s second touchdown came on a 10-play drive in which Heyward ran four times for 33 yards and George went 5-of-6 for 30 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown toss to Terance Mathis with 13:22 left in the second quarter. That was the last play for George, who was replaced by Browning Nagle.

For the first time, Arizona scored a touchdown with its new quarterback, 35-year-old Boomer Esiason, calling the signals. Lance McElroy scored on a 4-yard run with 9:45 remaining in the second quarter after Esiason completed three passes for 46 yards.

On the ensuing kickoff, Richard Huntley fumbled on the return and the Cardinals recovered at the 17. Three plays produced nothing, however, and Arizona settled for Greg Davis’ 35-yard field goal that made it 14-10.

Heyward appeared to put the game out of reach with two second-half touchdowns, one on a 12-yard shovel pass from Nagle, the other on a 1-yard run. Morten Anderson also had a 49-yard field goal.

Esiason completed only 7-of-17 passes for 91 yards and the Arizona running game reeled from the salary-cap release of Garrison Hearst earlier in the week. The new starting duo of Larry Centers and Leeland McElroy producing only 47 yards.

The Cardinals, however, were heartened by the return of holdouts Eric Swann, who started on the defensive line, and Simeon Rice, a first-round pick who had a sack in his first NFL game.

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