Atlanta Falcons show resilience, beat Washington at their own game


In a lot of ways, Atlanta’s 25-19 overtime triumph over Washington may be the most impressive win of the season.

Matt Ryan was visibly off and was harassed by a potent Washington pass rush. Julio Jones appeared uncomfortable. Matt “Money” Bryant—who hadn’t missed a field goal attempt all year—missed two in a row. Starting center Mike Person left with injury. On a day when almost nothing was going right for the Falcons, they somehow found a way to pull out the win.

The team leaned on its new and improved defense, which kept the Falcons in the contest throughout and ultimately won the game in overtime. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan adjusted the scheme and fed the ball to Devonta Freeman, who has looked like the best running back in the NFL over the past three weeks. Tight end Jacob Tamme, coming off a concussion, led the team in receiving with eight receptions for 94 yards.

On the whole, this appeared to be a completely different team than the one we’d seen through four weeks. Instead of relying on a high-octane passing attack, the Falcons dared Washington to stop Freeman and when they couldn’t, dominated time of possession (34:56-27:49).

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The Falcons looked a lot more like the Atlanta Seahawks on Sunday. They held the NFL’s top rushing attack to 51 yards on 24 attempts for a meager 2.1 average. That unit had been averaging 139.5 yards a game until facing Atlanta, and have now dropped all the way to 12th in the league. Kirk Cousins was kept in check with just 219 yards and two picks.

The Falcons out-gained Washington 418-270 on the day, with 29 first downs compared to 18. Atlanta simply couldn’t finish drives with touchdowns, which seems to be more of an aberration than a trend. There were also several questionable calls, including a pass interference on Robert Alford that gave Washington the ball at the Atlanta 2-yd line in the fourth quarter.

Still, this was a game that the Falcons were not designed to win. The way that the game unfolded played right into Washington’s hands. The only feasible way to defeat the Falcons was to keep the score low and take away the passing game, forcing Atlanta to rely on their rushing offense and defense to keep them in the game.

Truthfully, Washington was very close to winning this game. They were playing a great game defensively and were still leading 7-6 at the start of the fourth quarter. So how did it all fall apart?

Atlanta recognized the game Washington wanted to play and simply outplayed them at it.

The answer is simple. Atlanta recognized the game Washington wanted to play and simply outplayed them at it.

Think about my description of Atlanta’s success in this game: relying on a strong defense and rushing game to keep the score low and grind out a close win by dominating time of possession. I wasn’t in the room where Washington drew up their game plan, but I’d wager that description pretty much sums it up.

The thing is, Washington executed that game plan fairly well. They capitalized on a poor day by Matt Ryan and an injured Julio Jones to keep the game close, and the defense came up with some key turnovers. But where they failed was in the one area that they probably thought they’d have the most success—the rushing attack. Coincidentally, this is the area where Atlanta had the most success.

Without a strong rushing game, it is hard to control the clock. And when your offense relies on the run to the tune of well over 100 yards a game, it’s hard to get much going when your backs are getting only two per carry. That struggle put Washington in a ton of third and mid-to-long situations, and they understandably scuffled (4-12 on third down).

With Washington’s offense struggling, the defense was forced to play more minutes than they had all year. In fact, Washington has been so dominant in time of possession (they’re still currently 1st in the NFL, averaging 34:37, while Atlanta is second with 34:25) that their defense has only been on the field for more than 30 minutes twice this season. The only other game? A 21-32 loss to the New York Giants.

Oct 11, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) reacts with wide receiver Roddy White (84) after scoring the game tying touchdown during the fourth quarter at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons defeated the Redskins 25-19 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

That allowed the Falcons to grind them down and take advantage of a gassed unit late in the game, capped off by a 10-play, 80-yard drive by Matt Ryan in the final three minutes. If Atlanta had been given an opportunity on offense in overtime, chances are good they would have continued to take advantage.

This is a different Falcons team than in years past. They are fired up, impassioned, and best of all playing great football. Dan Quinn has to be given a ton of credit for bringing a winning attitude to this team, but the strength of the locker room is also a key component. Most of all, though, this team has proved that they are resilient.

Atlanta has won big and won small. They’ve won beautifully and now they’ve won ugly. Even the worst teams can win games on their best days, but only great ones can find ways to win on their worst days. This is the game that Atlanta can look back to and say “we never gave up, we never gave in, we fought until the bitter end and we finished.”

That is part of the reason why the Falcons are the first 5-0 team in NFL history to reach that mark after having trailed in the fourth quarter in four of five games. This team believes in each other, and we should start believing in them too.

There will be stumbles along the way, of course. This was a big one, but not so big that it couldn’t be overcome. Each game is a learning experience for this team, and I think we should expect them to get better as the year goes on. With the way the NFC South is shaking out, coupled with the Falcons easy schedule, this team has the potential to make noise in the playoffs.

That is why this is the most impressive win of the season. They were beat up and forced to play a style of game that favored their opponent, only to turn that right back against them and come away with the win.

Let’s hope future wins are more convincing, but as long as the team keeps on winning, you won’t hear many complaints from me.

Remember to tweet me your Falcons questions @KevinKnightATL. Yours could be answered in our weekly BD Mail community mailbag post.

Next: Atlanta Falcons: Devonta Freeman, Roddy White stock rising

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