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Falcons - Commanders instant recap: The game turns on 2 plays

Atlanta runs well, hangs tough, and ... welp.

Atlanta Falcons v Washington Commanders Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

A game against a solid Washington team in the rain figured to be tough, and it was. The Falcons have vowed to be tough, and they were.

The end result was a slugfest in Maryland, one that saw lead changes and big momentum swings all day long. The Falcons ran it well, were opportunistic on defense to the tune of two interceptions and a few key stops, and got some early quality passing cooking that helped keep them in it. The Commanders ran it well, got key stops, and threw it well enough to give them a real shot at the win. It was going to come down to one or two big plays, as it so often does for Atlanta,

In this one, it ended up being a fateful Marcus Mariota pass with the Falcons knocking on the door late in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t a bad pass, but Daron Payne tipped it, allowing Kendall Fuller to pick it off, which will launch a thousand questions about why the Falcons just didn’t keep running when they had done so at such a high level. The Falcons then forced a three and out, burning all three timeouts, but on the punt Adetokunbo Ogundeji ran into the punter and was penalized, giving the Commanders a first down that ended the game.

This is a huge loss for Atlanta, pending the result of the Tampa Bay game against Cleveland, because it puts them further behind the Commanders and potentially the Buccaneers in the playoff chase. The Falcons fought like hell in this one but fell short, and that may summarize their season unless they have an eye-opening run in them over the final five contests.

On to the full, drive-by-drive recap, if you’d like to re-visit it.

1st Quarter

The Falcons started with the ball, though Cordarrelle Patterson had no shot at a return on the touchback. Patterson got the first carry and took it three yards, and then Marcus Mariota dumped it off to MyCole Pruitt for five yards. Mariota then elected to keep it and ran for a first down. Tyler Allgeier took it seven yards on a toss outside on first down, and then picked up a first down on a nice run up the middle. Patterson was a quick target for four yards, and then another quick pass to Drake London got another first down. Allgeier ran into the pile for two yards, and then Patterson was destroyed behind the line before Mariota hit him on a short pass under pressure that fell well short of a first down. Fortunately, Younghoe Koo banged home the 47 yard try to give Atlanta an early lead. 3-0 Falcons.

The Commanders took one play to go past midfield, as Taylor Heinicke found a wide open Terry McLaurin 26 yards downfield on first down. Brian Robinson picked up five yards on the next run, but then Curtis Samuel was swallowed up by the Falcons front for a minimal gain. On third down, Heinicke found Dyami Brown for a 17 yard gain as the rain started falling. Brian Robinson and his line got a big push for a few yards on first down, and then McLaurin got close to a first down before Rashaan Evans hit him hard. On the next play, Heinicke connected with Robinson, who ran over and through Darren Hall and carried another defender into the end zone. 7-3 Commanders.

Mariota made a nice quick throw to Patterson for a first down, and then scrambled for seven yards on the next play. Unfortunately, he threw it off balance under pressure and Parker Hesse couldn’t corral it, and then Drake London dropped the next pass. Punt.

Logan Thomas got it on first down and trucked through Troy Andersen, picking up seven yards. Antonio Gibson then took it three yards to pick up a first down. A four yard gain on first down gave way to an incomplete pass on second down when Arnold Ebiketie drilled Heinicke, and on third down he flipped it to Antonio Gibson for no gain. Drive ended, punt.

2nd Quarter

Caleb Huntley got some blocking and flew through the line for a first down. On first down, Mariota found Huntley for a yard, and then ran it for seven more yards. On third down he picked up an easy first down, followed by a short Allgeier run that turned into a very long run Allgeier run. MyCole Pruitt got called for a facemask on a nice Patterson run, bringing it back to 1st and 25, and then Mariota’s screen pass to Patterson was broken up by Kendall Fuller. Then Mariota found Drake London, who scooped up a low pass for 22 yards before Patterson picked up an easy first down on a nice run. A facemask on Washington added yardage on the end of the play. Patterson didn’t get much on first down, but Mariota floated one to MyCole Pruitt in the end zone for an easy touchdown. 10-7 Falcons.

After a solid return, Brian Robinson picked up four on first down. Robinson then stumbled and fought his way to a first down. Gibson picked up seven on first down the play after, and then Gibson followed that up with a first down run up the middle. Heinicke missed Logan Thomas on first down, and then the Falcons held Gibson to a short gain. Unfortunately, Heinicke found McLaurin for a first down. A couple of solid runs turned into a big pass to Gibson for yet another first down, bringing Washington inside the 20. A shot to John Bates in the end zone didn’t quite convert after A.J. Terrell knocked him out of bounds before he could land, and then a one yard run by Brian Robinson gave Washington a third down and long. Grady Jarrett fought through the line to get pressure and forced Heinicke out and forced a throwaway, leaving Joey Slye to try a short field goal he made. 10-10 tie.

Mariota hit Olamide Zaccheaus down the sideline for a 23 yard gain on first down, which was a huge start for Atlanta. Allgeier picked up two on first down and then Mariota threw it over Zaccheaus’s head on second down, and then he hit Zaccheaus for seven yards on third down. The Falcons lined up like they were going for it, but bled the clock to bring it down to 29 seconds before calling a timeout. They then lined up and went for it again, and a combination of a low snap by Drew Dalman, poor block by Jake Matthews, and Patterson not being able to fight forward resulted in a turnover on downs.

Heinicke threw it right to Mykal Walker, who didn’t miss out on the opportunity and picked it off.

Mariota threw it away under pressure on first down, and then found Anthony Firkser for a long first down. That set up a 58 yard field goal try for Koo, who understandably did not hit it. That was a tie game at half.

3rd Quarter

Brian Ronbinson for a good gain, Curtis Samuel for a short pickup, and then Robinson for 21 yards on third down. Samiuel picked up five for an end around, and then Gibson got a couple before it was called back owing to a 10 yard penalty on Andrew Norwell. Heinicke’s pass was tipped by Mykal Walker, and on the next play he tried to find Terry McLaurin on the sideline but had it picked off by A.J. Terrell...only it was called incomplete on review. The punt settled down on the 5.

The Falcons picked up seven yards on two plays, and then Mariota couldn’t connect with Pruitt on third down. Punt.

Two runs by Robinson got a first down for Washington, and picked up another big gain on first down before Timothy Horne got the second down stop. Heinicke had to scramble and couldn’t connect to bring up fourth down. The Commanders went for it, and Robinson picked up the first down. Terry McLaurin took it on a handoff for five yards, and then Robinson got yet another first down. You’ll never guess who got another first down after that, followed by a nine yard run by Jonathan Williams. Unfortunately, Heinicke found John Bates for a touchdown strike to cap off a long drive, giving Washington the lead back. Fortunately, Joey Slye missed the extra point. 16-10 Commanders.

Zaccheaus took a quick throw six yards to kick things off, and then Mariota ran for a first down and then some to get Atlanta near midfield. Mariota got mashed on the next play and threw it into the dirt as he was hit, and then Patterson took it for a first down and then some, finishing with a 21 yard run. Allgeier then picked up four yards, and then Mariota avoided pressure to find Zaccheaus on the sideline, but it was a ball OZ couldn’t come up with it. On the next play, Zaccheaus was once again the target, but Mariota threw it too high. Koo hit the 48 yard field goal try to close the gap, though. 16-13 Commanders.

Robinson is a menace, and he picked up an easy first down and then some. A one yard pass to John Bates took us to the fourth quarter.

4th Quarter

Another short pass to Bates was followed up by a pass to McLaurin that picked up a first down. Then the ground game got cooking, with Robinson and Williams breaking an increasingly embarrassing number of tackles en route to two first downs. Fortunately, Atlanta’s defense finally tightened up thanks to Grady Jarrett and Dee Alford, among others, and they got a stop that forced the Commanders to settle for a field goal. 19-13 Commanders.

Patterson had no shot on first down, as Daron Payne was in the backfield basically as soon as he grabbed the ball for a loss of three yards. Mariota was then sacked by Montez Sweat for a big loss. He then hit Zaccheaus over the middle for a solid gain that was nowhere near a first down. Punt.

Gibson didn’t get anywhere on first down, and then Robinson didn’t go anywhere on second down with Abdullah Anderson doing work. Gibson caught it but slipped on third down to force a Washington punt.

Mariota managed to scramble and get it to Parker Hesse, who made a nice grab to get nine yards. Patterson then picked up a first down. Mariota slipped on the next play, which might have caused Washington to lose track of Zaccheaus, who was left wide open for Mariota to find, with Zaccheaus picking up a ton of yards after the catch to set Atlanta up in scoring range with his 53 yard gain. Patterson got nothing and Allgeier got about five to set up third down. Allgeier then ran it well to pick up a first down and Patterson picked up six on his next carry, setting up 2nd and 4 with 1:21 left to go in the game. Patterson picked up three on the next carry, and then Allgeier did nice work and a defensive offsides helped Atlanta get even closer. Mariota kept it on the next play but it was sniffed off, with Mariota avoiding one big hit but still losing two. On second down, Mariota’s pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and Kendall Fuller picked it off in the end zone. Turnover.

The Commanders just wanted a first down to end the game. They ran it twice for just five yards, forcing Atlanta to use two timeouts, and then picked up a couple more on third down. Atlanta called their final timeout and Washington punted with 44 seconds left on the clock, but Adetokunbo Ogundeji ran into the punter and was penalized, giving the Commanders a first down. Ballgame.