Atlanta — Adrian Clayborn must’ve thought he was the one replacing Ezekiel Elliott in the 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.
New England 41, (at) Denver 16: 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.
Avoiding Von Miller all night and throwing for 266 yards on 25-of-34 passing, Brady improved to 8-9 against the Broncos, the only team he has a losing record against, and won for just the fourth time in 11 trips to Denver. His 86th regular-season road win broke a tie with Peyton Manning for most all-time.
The Patriots also won a dozen consecutive road games from 2006-08. The NFL record is 18 set by the Joe Montana-led San Francisco 49ers from 1988-90.
For the first time since 1979, the Patriots had a special teams takeaway, a blocked punt and a kickoff return for a touchdown, a trifecta that fueled a comfortable 27-9 halftime lead.
New Orleans 47, (at) Buffalo 10: Mark Ingram scored a career-best three touchdowns and the New Orleans Saints won their seventh straight game by plowing through a porous Buffalo Bills defense in a 47-10 rout on Sunday.
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 by scoring twice from 3 yards, and another on a 1-yard plunge.
New Orleans set a franchise record by scoring six touchdowns rushing, and it marked the most allowed by Buffalo in team history.
The Saints (7-2) haven’t lost since dropping their first two games and matched their longest winning streak since closing the 2011 season 8-0.
The Bills (5-4) lost their second straight.
Pittsburgh 20, (at) Indianapolis 17: Ben Roethlisberger’s 32-yard completion to Antonio Brown with 35 seconds set up a 33-yard field goal from Chris Boswell as time expired.
The Steelers (7-2) have won four straight and five in a row in the series.
Pittsburgh needed two second-half TD passes from Roethlisberger to fight its way out of a 17-3 third-quarter deficit.
The two -time Super Bowl champion methodically marched the Steelers 70 yards in the final 3 minutes, 10 seconds to give Pittsburgh its only lead.
(At) San Francisco 31, N.Y. Giants 21: 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.
The 49ers (1-9) took advantage of another listless effort by the Giants (1-8) to win for the first time under coach Kyle Shanahan.
This was the first time in 33 years that two teams with only one combined win met this late in a season.
(At) Tennessee 24, Cincinnati 20: 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 the Titans (6-3) since takin five straight in 2009,.
It’s their best start to a season since 2008 when the Titans last reached the playoffs as the AFC’s No. 1 seed.
Murray ran for two touchdowns, and Mariota finished with 264 yards passing.
The Bengals (3-6) lost for the third time in four games despite sacking Mariota four times.
(At) L.A. Rams 33, Houston 7: Robert Woods caught two of Jared Goff’s three touchdown passes during a dominant third quarter, and the Rams returned after a month away from home for their 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 it behind a series of big throws by Goff, who passed for a career-high 355 yards.
Woods caught a 94-yard TD pass to break it open before Sammy Watkins and Woods made TD catches 19 seconds apart late in the third quarter.
Bruce Ellington caught a 26-yard TD pass for the Texans (3-6), who have lost three straight and four of five.
(At) Jacksonville 20, L.A. Chargers 17 (OT): Josh Lambo kicked a 30-yard field goal with 3:12 remaining in overtime, lifting the Jaguars.
Lambo’s kick got tipped at the line of scrimmage and still cleared the crossbar.
It gave Jacksonville its first three-game winning streak since 2013.
Lambo drilled a 34-yard field goal to send it to the extra period.
(At) Tampa Bay 15, N.Y. Jets 10: Ryan Fitzpatrick led two long scoring drives and Tampa Bay limited the Jets 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, the Buccaneers (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.
Fitzpatrick, facing the team he played for the past two seasons, completed 17 of 34 passes for 187 yards and was intercepted once.