The Atlanta Falcons fell to 3-3 on Sunday after losing to the Commanders 24-16 in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It was the first home loss of the season for the Falcons, and it’s an outcome that felt avoidable at many points during the afternoon, including very near the end of the game.
Despite holding the Commanders to just two third-down conversions all game, the Falcons surrendered 24 points and couldn’t muster enough consistency on the offensive end to finish off drives with points. Atlanta will be kicking itself for letting this one slip away, possibly for a long time, given that Washington seemed keen to give them as many chances as possible to ultimately win.
Let’s dig into the takeaways, shall we?
Falcons made too many mistakes in a winnable game
This is a game the Falcons will kick themselves for not winning. And that’s to take nothing away from the Commanders, who looked like the better team for much of the afternoon. But this was a winnable game for the Falcons, and they had too many unforced errors.
Atlanta’s passing game is finally showing growth and signs of life, and it was nice to see another game where the Falcons could move the ball through the air. Defensively, the team hunkered down and was able to keep things close for the team in the second half. And, the offensive line did a great job handling a Commanders front that presents a real challenge.
However, when you don’t win the game, those are mere silver linings. And the Falcons just didn’t execute the details well enough to win this game. When you give up a 60-yard punt return, lose the turnover margin and have some costly penalties in big moments, the outcome does not often go in your favor. Atlanta did all three of those and seemed to have issues getting the ball snapped on time in this one, dooming them to a loss.
Commanders took control of this game in the second quarter
This game’s tenor changed less than two minutes into the second quarter. When Jamison Crowder fielded Bradley Pinion’s punt at Washington’s 28-yard line and found a seam up the heart of Atlanta’s coverage unit for a 61-yard return, it provided a spark that ignited the Commanders.
Washington’s offense started at the Falcons’ 11-yard line and had no trouble scoring its first touchdown of the game just three plays later. Atlanta’s ensuing offensive possession ended on downs, and the Commanders picked up right where they left off. They covered 47 yards in seven plays, scoring on a 7-yard pass from Sam Howell to Curtis Samuel.
That gave Washington a 17-7 lead, and although the Falcons would tack on a field goal before halftime, it was the point when the visiting team grasped this game with both hands.
Ridder’s costly interception at the goal line
In one of the biggest sequences of the game, Ridder looked like a player making only his 10th career start. On third-and-goal at the 2-yard line, Ridder was called for a delay of game penalty. After the penalty, Ridder looked a bit stunned by the call and possibly frustrated at himself. The same sequence nearly happened again on third-and-7.
Ridder frantically called for the snap as the clock sat at zero, but the penalty flag stayed in the referee’s pocket. However, Ridder quickly backpedaled out of the pocket and looked flustered after another bumpy takeoff into the play. He felt pressure in his face and lobbed up a pass towards Drake London in the end zone. London was not headed in the direction of the ball, though, and it resulted in an easy interception for Benjamin St.-Juste.
Those back-to-back plays were big blunders by the quarterback at a pivotal moment. Down 24-16 and in great position to score late in the game to potentially tie it up, you can’t come away with no points after reaching the 2-yard line.
Atlanta’s offense got the fast start it’s been searching for
The Falcons have been notoriously slow starters in 2023, but that changed for at least one Sunday afternoon. Atlanta’s first drive was a thing of beauty. After converting an early third-and-long, the passing attack came alive. Desmond Ridder helped march the Falcons 75 yards in 11 plays, and he connected on a beautiful 9-yard pass to Kyle Pitts to cap the drive off with a touchdown.
It was the first opening-drive touchdown of the season for Atlanta, and it should also be considered another positive sign for Ridder. The second-year quarterback, who also has a reputation for slow starts, was a surgeon on the first drive. He completed five of his six passes for 65 yards and the touchdown.
Desmond Ridder's EPA/play right now is 0.97. That's legitimately insane. Obviously early but... wow— Will McFadden (@willmcfadden) October 15, 2023
Falcons’ pass rush got home against a porous Washington O-line
Through the first five games of the season, sacks had once again eluded the Falcons. They entered Sunday’s matchup against the Commanders last in the league with just five sacks. Atlanta matched that total in one game against a Washington offense that ranked 31st in sacks per pass attempt heading into the weekend.
It was a great sight to see the Falcons get Howell to the turf, and the contribution came from several different members of the defensive line. Grady Jarrett kicked things off with a sack that helped end Washington’s first drive. Bud Dupree and Calais Campbell had back-to-back sacks that stifled a Commanders’ drive in the second quarter, and it was the 100th career sack for Campbell.
Arnold Ebiketie, a former second-round pick also got to Howell for his first sack of the season. Fittingly, the Falcons final sack of the game was a complete group effort with all the players previously mentioned meeting at the quarterback. Ebiketie got the official credit, but everyone was invited to the party. It helps a great deal when a quarterback like Howell holds the ball so long and wanders into pressure, but give the Falcons credit for sticking with it and turning that pressure into big plays.
This might have been a case of the Falcons getting the right opponent, but perhaps it will help get the sack production ticking upwards.