ATLANTA - Adrian Clayborn must’ve thought he was the one replacing Ezekiel Elliott in the Dallas Cowboys’ backfield.
Clayborn spent most of Sunday running around back there, making life miserable for Dak Prescott with one of the greatest pass-rushing performances in NFL history.
A solid player but hardly a star, Clayborn set an Atlanta record with six sacks and forced a pair of fumbles to lead the Falcons past the Cowboys 27-7, a game that showed just how much Dallas missed one of its key offensive players.
No, not Elliott, though that was certainly a blow. After three legal reprieves, the star running back finally began serving a six-game suspension for allegations of domestic abuse.
The Cowboys were also without left tackle Tyron Smith, who couldn’t go because of groin and back injuries. Third-year player Chaz Green stepped into the spot — and had a thoroughly miserable day trying to stop Clayborn.
Leaving Green grasping at air, Clayborn blew by him to force two fumbles — one of which he recovered himself by ripping the ball away from Prescott — and surpass the team record of five sacks in a game, held by Chuck Smith and Hall of Famer Claude Humphrey.
“You always envision it,” Clayborn said. “I was finally in my groove.”
He matched the second-most sacks in NFL history. Derrick Thomas, Osi Umenyiora and Fred Dean are the only other players credited with six sacks in a game, while Thomas holds the league record with seven for Kansas City against the Seahawks on Nov. 11, 1990.
Clayborn had more sacks in this contest than any other season except for his rookie year in 2011, when he had 7.5.
He came into Sunday with two sacks on the season and 22.5 over his seven-year career.
“AC went crazy today,” Falcons receiver Julio Jones said.
Simply put, Green couldn’t cope with Clayborn’s speed.
“It just hurts because I feel I let the team down,” Green said. “I’ve just got to get better. It’s on me.”
While Clayborn and the defense dominated the Elliott-less Cowboys, Matt Ryan threw a pair of short touchdown passes and reached 40,000 career passing yards in fewer games than any other quarterback in NFL history. Ryan has 40,073 yards in 151 games, surpassing the previous mark of 152 held by Drew Brees.
Ryan hooked up with Justin Hardy on a 3-yard pass for Atlanta’s first offensive touchdown in the third quarter this season . Early in the fourth, Ryan put the game away for the Falcons (5-4) by tossing one to Austin Hooper for a 1-yard score.
Rams 33, Texans 7
In Los Angeles, Robert Woods caught two of Jared Goff’s three touchdown passes during a dominant third quarter, and the surging Rams returned after a month away from home for its fourth straight victory.
After struggling to a 9-7 lead during a quiet first half for the NFL’s highest-scoring team, the Rams (7-2) ran away with a series of big throws by Goff, who passed for a career-high 355 yards.
Saints 47, Bills 10
In Orchard Park, New York, Mark Ingram scored a career-best three touchdowns and the Saints won their seventh straight game by plowing through a porous Bills defense.
Alvin Kamara also had a 3-yard touchdown rushing as the Saints blew the game open by scoring five times on their first six possessions, not including a one-play series to close the first half. Ingram finished with 131 yards rushing. He scored twice from 3 yards and again on a 1-yard plunge.
49ers 31, Giants 21
In Santa Clara, California, C.J. Beathard threw for 288 yards and two touchdowns and ran for a third score to lead the 49ers to their first win of the season.
Beathard connected on an 83-yard TD to Marquise Goodwin and a 47-yarder to Garrett Celek in the second quarter as San Francisco (1-9) took advantage of another listless effort by New York (1-8) to win for the first time under coach Kyle Shanahan.
Beathard’s days as starting quarterback figure to be numbered after the team acquired Jimmy Garoppolo two weeks ago in a trade with New England. Garoppolo has been learning the offense and could take over when the team returns from the bye in two weeks.
Patriots 41, Broncos 16
In Denver, Tom Brady threw three touchdown passes and the Patriots matched their own AFC record with their 12th consecutive road victory, pummeling the Broncos.
These teams have represented the AFC in the last four Super Bowls, and the Broncos (3-6) were hoping a visit from their rivals would help shake them from their funk.
Instead, the Broncos fizzled.
They saw their losing streak reach five games, their longest skid in seven seasons, and they lost back-to-back games to the Patriots (7-2) in Denver for the first time since 1966.
Steelers 20, Colts 17
In Indianapolis, Ben Roethlisberger’s 32-yard completion to Antonio Brown with 35 seconds left set up a 33-yard field goal from Chris Boswell as time expired.
Pittsburgh (7-2) has won four straight overall and five in a row in the series.
Vikings 38, Redskins 30
In Landover, Maryland, Case Keenum threw touchdowns to four different receivers to build a big lead, and NFC North-leading Minnesota won its fifth in a row.
With Teddy Bridgewater active for the first time since January 2016 after a devastating knee injury, Keenum was 21 of 29 for 304 yards and TD passes to Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, David Morgan and Jarius Wright. He was picked off on consecutive throws by D.J. Swearinger. Thielen had eight catches for a season-high 166 yards.
Packers 23, Bears 16
In Chicago, Brett Hundley threw for 212 yards and a touchdown, Nick Perry had three sacks and Green Bay snapped a three-game losing streak.
Hundley, starting his third game for an injured Aaron Rodgers, threw a 17-yard touchdown to Davante Adams to make it 23-13 with 5:29 to play, and the Packers (5-4) hung on to beat the Bears (3-6) for the eighth time in nine games.
It was the first victory for a Packers QB not named Rodgers or Brett Favre since 1989.
Titans 24, Bengals 20
In Nashville, Tennessee, Marcus Mariota tossed a 7-yard touchdown pass to DeMarco Murray with 36 seconds left , and the Titans rallied for their fourth consecutive victory.
It’s the longest winning streak for Tennessee (6-3) since taking five straight in 2009, and the team’s best start to a season since 2008, when the Titans last reached the playoffs as the AFC’s No. 1 seed.
Jaguars 20, Chargers 17 (OT)
In Jacksonville, Josh Lambo kicked a 30-yard field goal with 3:12 remaining in overtime, lifting the Jaguars to a win in a wild game.
Lambo’s kick got tipped at the line of scrimmage and still cleared the crossbar. The former soccer player and one-time Charger ran the other way and slid on both knees near midfield before getting mobbed by teammates.
It gave Jacksonville its first three-game winning streak since 2013.
The game ended up in overtime after a wacky final two minutes of regulation that included a fumble, two interceptions, a taunting penalty and a costly flag for roughing the passer. At times, it looked as if neither team wanted to win.
Lions 38, Browns 24
In Detroit, Matthew Stafford lofted a 29-yard, tiebreaking touchdown to Eric Ebron early in the fourth quarter and the Lions went on to beat the winless Browns.
The Browns, who fell to 0-9 on the season, led 10-0 early in the game for their first double-digit lead of the year, and were up 24-17 in the third after Deshone Kizer led two consecutive touchdown drives.
Detroit is the only franchise to have a 0-16 season, going winless in 2008.
Buccaneers 15, Jets 10
In Tampa, Ryan Fitzpatrick led two long scoring drives and the Bucs limited New York to less than 200 yards of offense until late in the fourth quarter to snap a five-game losing streak.
With Fitzpatrick filling in for injured quarterback Jameis Winston,Tampa (3-6) used three field goals to build a 9-3 lead. Charles Sims put the game out of reach with a 6-yard touchdown reception with just over six minutes remaining.