The Falcons came into this game heavily favored, and through the course of the afternoon, they managed to make even the most diehard fan throw up their hands in befuddlement. By the start of overtime, you might have wondered how Atlanta was even favored in the first place, given how terrible the offense was throughout most of the day, and how the defense appeared to falter when the team needed it most.
Of course, this being the magic-imbued 2015 Atlanta Falcons, they pulled it off. It took a Robert Alford pick six in overtime, but the Falcons ran their record to 5-0 for only the second time in franchise history, turning what we all hope is their sloppiest and lousiest effort of the season into yet another win. I'm still not entirely sure how they pulled it off, but I'm very grateful they did.
In the first half, Washington managed just seven points and gave the Falcons an interception that should have set up a score, but Atlanta simply couldn't capitalize. Matt Ryan missed a ton of throws, Julio Jones was clearly not 100%, and even Matt Bryant faltered, whiffing on a pair of field goals that would have put the Falcons ahead. The second half saw the Falcons climb back into it, but a costly defensive series in the fourth quarter including a huge pass interference call on Robert Alford saw the lead swing back to Washington. The fact that the Falcons managed to pull this one off is nothing short of remarkable, considering how many blunders they had along the way.
The Falcons are now 5-0, even if the journey here was anything but smooth. You can thank Devonta Freeman and a stingy defensive effort for this one, and Matt Ryan finding his way at the last second possible second in order for this team to win. There's little question this team has a lot to work on in practice and a lot to study in the film room to avoid cutting their next game this close, regardless of the result of this one, but we'll obviously take the result.
On to the full recap.
- You saw the Falcons elect to defend first, and you saw them force a quick three and out. The confidence in this unit borders on swagger, and it has been earned thus far in 2015. Impressive. For all the ineptitude of the offense, the defense managed to hold the Redskins to under 150 yards until the fourth quarter, and just one score on busted coverage. It's fair to be a little skeptical of this team after the effort here, but the defense still looks very legitimate, aside from the final drive of the fourth quarter, which goes in the "ugly" category.
- He was terrible throughout most of the day, but give Matt Ryan kudos for delivering on the final drive of the fourth quarter to ensure the Falcons got to overtime in the first place. He even lowered his shoulder to pick up extra yardage on the run, and it at least partially atones for the inaccuracy and boneheaded interceptions.
- Devonta Freeman is for real. He gashed the Redskins most of the day on the ground, piling up over 150 yards yet again and making a handful of nice catches along the way. He's the clear feature back at the moment, and the Falcons probably need to feed him more, even though he had 30-plus touches in this one.
- It was Jacob Tamme time today. He was the team's leading receiver, he ran crisp routes, and he routinely bailed out Matt Ryan, who was facing pressure and an ineffective Julio Jones. Huge kudos to the veteran tight end.
- Roddy White came up big today when it counted. Two catches for 23 yards looks pedestrian, but when you consider one of those was a clutch seven yard grab on 4th and 2 with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, you aren't going to hear any criticism out of me. Hopefully he'll be more involved in the weeks ahead.
- Even with a middling-to-poor day in pass protection, the line blocked well for Devonta Freeman, and remains one of the best lines we've seen this team trot out in years.
- Phillip Adams quietly delivered a quality game in coverage, forced a fumble, and piled up five tackles on the day. He's been valuable for the Falcons, if not totally consistent.
- Despite being limited, Julio Jones put together a quality performance, and came up big later in the game. He needs to get his hamstring right, but he remains one hell of a player, even at 80%.
- Nate Stupar's strides this year have been incredible. He's still a core special teamer, but after this game, he also has a sack and a fumble return for a touchdown to his name, plus several key tackles. He's blossomed as a defender in this scheme, and you should expect to see a lot more of him even when Justin Durant returns. Heck, he even pressured Kirk Cousins on that decisive Alford pick six.
- Robert Alford continues to impress, and it's no exaggeration to say he won the game for the Falcons with his two interceptions. Quality defense throughout the game and a win-sealing pick six off of a Kirk Cousins pass in overtime will do the trick, and there are few players on this great improved team who have shown better year-over-year gains than #23.
- The defense held an impressive Washington ground game to 51 yards on 24 carries, which is the most impressive stat of the day. This team has made enormous strides in that regard in just one year.
- Given the way this game went, of course the Falcons took a fourth quarter lead on a Devonta Freeman fumble Julio Jones scooped up in the end zone. Of course. Then of course they surrendered it, scored on Devonta Freeman touchdown catch which was then overturned, and then scored on a Devonta Freeman touchdown run. Then they won on an overtime pick six. Damn, this game was nuts.
- Matt Ryan started off the game horribly, and it didn't really improve during the rest of the game. It was an unbelievably shaky effort from Ryan, who has had a couple of bad stretches this season, but was inaccurate and off throughout the day yesterday and threw two extremely costly picks. By and large Ryan has been excellent this year, but he was off in a major way today, feeling the pressure and missing a wide open Leonard Hankerson near the end zone in perhaps the most costly play of the day. He did rally late, but Ryan simply can't play that poorly most weeks for the Falcons to hang around.
- The offensive line played a major role in Ryan's middling day, with the line blocking poorly and letting Ryan see a lot of pressure. He needs to play better, obviously, but the margin of error was already pretty thin with Julio clearly limited and Hankerson missing time, and the line couldn't deliver.
- The Falcons needed merely to slow Washington down enough to keep them out of field goal range with 24 seconds left in the fourth quarter, and they utterly failed to do so. They kept Washington to a 52 yard field goal attempt, but it was a hugely disappointing drive for a team that was so successful in shutting down the Redskins throughout much of the day. Again, they atoned in the end, however.
- When Matt Bryant misses a field goal, you know things are going awry. Bryant's half-ending 38 yard attempt hit the upright, and his 48 yarder in the third quarter did the same. Just a miserable game for Bryant, who is usually one of the 3-4 most reliable kickers in the NFL. I'd call this one a fluke for one of the most reliable dudes going.
- Just a generally sloppy effort. More missed tackles, costly penalties, and a lot of missed opportunities for this team. Hiccups are an expected part of any season, particularly for a team with so many new players and a new coaching staff, but that doesn't make team's play excusable. We'll expect better against the Saints, and certainly the Falcons need to erase their persistent issues with missed tackles, in particular.
Game MVP: Devonta Freeman and Robert Alford split it. Freeman was the team's offense, in many ways, and deserves recognition for his third consecutive huge game. Alford sealed the win and played excellent defense, too.
Theme Song: Share your favorite celebration song in the comments. I'm sure you're playing it.
One Takeaway: Kyle Shanahan and the offense need to watch a lot of film this week to iron it out, but whatever wizardry Dan Quinn is practicing behind closed doors needs to continue.
Next Week: The hated, lousy New Orleans Saints on Thursday. It's a road game, and you'll find a ton of coverage on Canal Street Chronicles.
Final Word: 5-0feelsgoodnomatterhowuglyitlooks.