Atlanta Falcons look rusty early, outlast Washington Redskins 24-17


October 7, 2012; Landover, MD, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) is sacked by Washington Redskins nose tackle Barry Cofield (96) in the fourth quarter at FedEx Field. The Falcons won 24-17. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

For the second straight week, the game wasn’t pretty. Filled with errors, both mental and physical, it was ugly through and through. But for the second straight week, the end result couldn’t be argued with: the Falcons added another win to take their season record to 5-0.

The Redskins came out of the shoots with an outstanding defense. They were playing very strong up front, and weren’t ceding anything in the secondary. Not a single pass went uncontested, and good things can happen when you contest passes. Lots of incompletions, runs for no gain, the like happened for the Falcons. They weren’t a very effective offense early.

Part of that had to do with two turnovers. The first was an uncharacteristic interception from Matt Ryan. It wasn’t that he didn’t see a safety deep, or was really fooled by the defense; Ryan Kerrigan was right in his face trying to defend a screen pass. But where Ryan needed to loft it much higher or look to a different receiver, he threw the pass, and Kerrigan climbed the ladder, collected the ball, and ran it back for a touchdown. A horrible, demoralizing play as the offense, an great, momentum building play if you’re the defense. I loathe seeing Ryan throw interceptions, especially in occasions when he should have eaten it or thrown it somewhere, anywhere else. Turnovers are not a positive.

The second turnover came when the quarterback/center exchange was fumbled away and Washington recovered. It’s the absolute most basic, fundamental thing in all of football, but when it goes wrong, you notice. I don’t know why it happened, but it did. And it certainly wasn’t good.

But soon after things started looking up for the Falcons. The defense played with great effort, and while they didn’t create a turnover early, they didn’t give RGIII and the rest of the Skins much leeway. A field goal was missed by Washington, and they missed three points. Atlanta also began moving the ball really well. Washington decided to double cover the outside receivers. Atlanta landed a counter punch.

That counter punch came in the form of Tony Gonzalez. Ryan was having difficulty finding open targets, so he went to the old reliable tight end. Gonzalez was fantastic all day, reeling in 13 catches on 14 targets for 123 yards and a touchdown catch. It was critical that the Falcons used him to control the middle of the field, and he did exactly that. He was absolutely great on a goal-line touchdown pass where he fought off the defender and made the grab high in the air. It was Atlanta’s first touchdown of the game and pulled them even at 7 with the Redskins.

Another huge play that really affected the end result of the game was the big hit that Sean Weatherspoon landed on Robert Griffin. The Skins were driving, and they were in the red-zone. With about 9 yards to go, Griffin scrambled around the right edge in an attempt to gain yardage. Instead of sliding or stepping out of bounds, Griffin stayed in and got leveled by Weatherspoon. It was a good, solid, legal hit, but it also resulted in a head injury to Griffin. He missed the rest of the game, and that seemed to have an effect on the Washington Redskins overall.

Early in the 4th quarter, the Falcons found pay-dirt once again. This time, Matt Ryan got good field position and led the team through the air. It culminated in a beautiful 18-yard fade pass to Julio Jones in the left corner of the end-zone. It gave the Falcons a 14-10 lead, their first lead of the game.

Then, the unthinkable happened. Just when everything seemed to be going the Falcons way, and it looked like they might put a hurting on Washington in the 4th quarter, backup quarterback (and also rookie) Kirk Cousins delivered a 77-yard touchdown strike to Santana Moss. Crushing. Absolutely blown coverage. But the Falcons decided they couldn’t just throw in the towel.

Atlanta answered with a field goal. Then the defense forced a punt. The following drive gave the Falcons a lead, one that they wouldn’t relinquish. The Falcons went 6 plays, 69 yards, and culminated in a Michael Turner touchdown run. It was made possible in large part by the great play by QB Matt Ryan, and a big 29-yard reception by Julio Jones. A great team effort to score on a tiring Washington defense.

But the game wasn’t over yet. What then put it out of reach for Washington was the play of rookie Kirk Cousins. He threw two interceptions in the last two minutes of the game, plays that allowed the Falcons to run the clock out, and hold on for a victory. No comeback would come for the Redskins.

A couple things were notable for this game. The first it that Matt Ryan engineered his 18th 4th quarter comeback of his career. That’s a fantastically large number, and really speaks to Ryan’s leadership abilities. The second is the Falcons great play outdoors today. Atlanta has gains a reputation as a ‘dome team’, but so far this season the Falcons have won three games on the road. It would be easy to say that the first two outdoor games were as good as in a dome (the games in Kansas City and San Diego featured fantastic weather), but in Washington the game was rainy, and the Falcons aerial attack was still able to gain traction. Really good way to respond to the critics of the Falcons being an indoors-only team.

The Falcons also were outgained by a large number on the ground. But the defense was able to prevent Washington from converting on third downs, and really limited what the Redskins could do. They also got kinda lucky that RGIII was knocked out for the rest of the game. I wish nothing but good health for Griffin. But perhaps the Redskins may have been more successful in the fourth quarter were Griffin and not Cousins calling plays from under center.

In the end, the Falcons are 5-0, and not just by their own doing. Because of their outstanding effort and not giving up on one solitary play, they have remained in ball games and in the end have had the opportunity to win then when it comes to crunch time. They need to not turn the ball over quite so much. And they need to be more consistent offensively throughout the game. However, being 5-0 isn’t blind luck. It’s got a lot to do with hard work. The Falcons hard work has really paid off.