Takeaways allow Atlanta Falcons to escape with 27-26 win over Washington Redskins


Dec 15, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Steven Jackson (39) celebrates a touchdown with tight end Tony Gonzalez (88) in the first half at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The words “aesthetically pleasing” should never (ever) be used to describe the Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins after their battle on Sunday, but despite the ugliness on the field, Atlanta was able to steal a 27-26 win.

For much of the first half, it was a comedy of errors on both sides. The visiting Redskins committed a staggering four turnovers in the opening 30 minutes, but somehow, they were able to overcome those mishaps (with the help of the Atlanta defense) in order to eventually grab a 20-17 halftime lead.

Before the wheels fell off a bit, the beginning of the afternoon was beautiful for Matt Ryan and the offense. Ryan took the ball to open the game, and led the Falcons on a 14-play, 83-yard drive that was punctuated by a 3-yard touchdown run by Steven Jackson that included an absolute “beast mode” effort from the veteran running back. From there, defensive end Osi Umenyiora forced a Kirk Cousins fumble on Washington’s opening possession, and Ryan led a quick, 3-play touchdown drive that ended in a Tony Gonzalez touchdown.

At 14-0 and in complete control, it looked to be smooth sailing for the Falcons, but that was short-lived. Cousins took the Washington offense on an 80-yard touchdown drive on the next possession for the ‘Skins, and after Matt Bryant split the uprights to give the Falcons a 17-7 lead, things got weird.

Cousins immediately found Aldrick Robinson for a 62-yard bomb on the opening play of the ensuing drive (thanks to a wretched angle from Falcons safety William Moore), but the Falcons were quickly bailed out when Washington running back Alfred Morris put the ball on the turf at the Atlanta 18-yard line. However, rookie RT Ryan Schraeder was destroyed on the first play of the next drive by Ryan Kerrigan, who generated a sack/fumble on Matt Ryan that gave the ball back to Washington. Then (!!!), Washington gave the ball back to Atlanta, as Santana Moss put the ball on the turf to give the Falcons the ball on their own 5-yard line.

It looked as if Atlanta had avoided potential disaster, but the ‘Skins absolutely owned the rest of the half. They forced a 3-and-out that gave the visiting team great field position, and when Cousins found a streaking Pierre Garcon for a 53-yard touchdown (on a horrible angle by Zeke Motta), the lead was down to 17-14. From there, Washington generated back-to-back Kai Forbath field goals (with some help from a 3-and-out and a Matt Ryan interception), and it was somehow a 20-17 game despite the 4 takeaways.

Coming out of the half, the Falcons were able to generate a 3-and-out from Washington, and on the ensuing drive, they quickly zoomed into the red zone. Then, though, the drive stalled in an unfortunate manner as Tony Gonzalez was brought down just short of the goal line on 3rd-and-goal from the 6-yard line, and Steven Jackson was stood up (quite literally) short of the end zone on 4th down. Fortunately, Kirk Cousins was there to help.

Cousins delivered a perfect strike on the first play of Washington’s next drive, but it happened to be caught by Falcons safety William Moore, and when Moore took it back to the 1-yard line, it was the “big break” that Atlanta needed. Steven Jackson was able to punch it in (this time) on first down, and in a snap, things went from bleak to promising as the Falcons took a 24-20 lead.

From there, things were actually (gasp) quiet for a few drives, as the two teams traded 4 consecutive punts before Washington made another assault on the red zone. Once they got there, however, running back Alfred Morris put the ball on the ground for Washington’s sixth turnover of the day, giving the ball back to the Falcons when Jonathan Babineaux recovered and carried the rock to the 22-yard line.

Matt Ryan and company were able to escape from the shadow of their own end zone a bit, but were forced to punt the ball back to Washington for what set up as a potential “danger zone” opportunity. Virtually on cue, Cousins threw his 2nd interception of the day on just the 1st play of the drive, and when Desmond Trufant picked him off, it was the seventh takeaway of the day. From there, the Falcons “capitalized” (with a ??-yard drive) as Matt Bryant split the uprights from 51 yards out, and the lead was 27-20 with just 3:25 to play in the game.

As has been the case for the entire 2013 season, it couldn’t possibly be easy for the Atlanta Falcons, and Kirk Cousins led Washington on a 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that looked to be sending the game to overtime. However, Mike Shanahan elected to go for the 2-point conversion and the win, and when Desmond Trufant batted away Cousins’ toss to the end zone, the Falcons escaped with a 27-26 victory.

To be honest and fair, there was absolutely nothing exceptional about this game. It was one of the more poorly played games that you will ever see at this level of football, and if not for the inexplicable nature of Washington’s 7 turnovers, the Falcons would have had little chance to win. However, there were some positive takeaways.

First, the offense played reasonably well for Atlanta, and that begins with Matt Ryan. “Matty Ice” wasn’t anywhere near flawless, losing a fumble and throwing an interception, but he amassed an 86.5 QB rating on the day, and his 29-for-38, 210-yard effort was quite solid. Next to Ryan, the biggest factor in the passing game was future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez. Gonzalez amassed 6 catches for 62 yards and a touchdown, but more importantly, surpassed the 15,000-yard mark for his career, and with that, became just the 5th player in NFL history to achieve that milestone.

On the ground, Steven Jackson showed real signs of life in this one, but still had a subpar statistical day. As mentioned above, Jackson absolutely battered tacklers at times (especially on his touchdown run), but in the end, it was a 15-carry, 38-yard day for S-Jax, and the running game continues to be one of the bigger overall issues, even if it is mostly driven by the ineptitude of the offensive line.

The Falcons were out-gained by nearly double at the hands of Washington, as they put together 476 yards of total offense to just 243 for Atlanta. That doesn’t bode well for the defense as a whole, and Cousins (381 yards, 3 TDs) and Alfred Morris (18 carries, 98 yards) seemed to do whatever they wanted to at times. Still, generating 7 turnovers has something to do with the defense, and there’s at least a small “hat tip” to Mike Nolan and company for that.

This was a flat-out escape for Atlanta, and the word “heist” has to come to mind when winning a game despite the huge gap in total yardage. The fact that the Falcons nearly lost this game (to a now 3-11 opponent) despite generating 7 takeaways is highly troubling, but unless you are a supporter of tanking, it is always a positive to emerge from a game victorious. With their record up to 4-10, the Falcons are now virtually eliminated from the #1 pick discussion, but perhaps the momentum of some victories can spark the organization moving forward.