The 5th Quarter: Falcons 27 Redskins 26

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Updated: December 16, 2013
The 5th Quarter

THE GAME TURNED WHEN… The Redskins had the ball on their own one yard line, with 8:27 left in the third quarter, after having just stopped the Falcons on fourth and one — a tremendous goal-line stand by ILB Perry Riley and the defense. The Redskins also had a 20-17 lead and, seemingly, the momentum. On first down, in the shadow of their own goalposts, the Redskins called a pass play. Kirk Cousins went back to throw and saw WR Aldrick Robinson over the middle. Cousins fired the pass, but behind his receiver and the ball was intercepted by Falcons safety William Moore, who returned it back to the one yard line. The Redskins defense had no goal line stand in them this time, as Atlanta RB Steven Jackson bashed into the end zone on the first play. The Falcons took a 24-20 lead and they never lost it.

THE GAME WAS OVER WHEN… Kirk Cousins rolled to  his right, looking for an open receiver on Washington’s 2-point conversion attempt, moments after he threw a 3-yard TD pass to WR Santana Moss. Cousins didn’t see an easy play so he lobbed the ball high to WR Pierre Garcon in the back of the end zone, but the ball was swatted away and Atlanta retained the lead, 27-26. Washington’s on-side kickoff with 19 seconds left scooted through Atlanta’s first line of defense, but was eventually recovered by the Falcons. Atlanta QB Matt Ryan put his knee down on the next play to end the game.

THE GOOD… OLB Brian Orakpo is playing like a man who wants to get paid in a couple of months. Orakpo had 1.5 sacks, 2 QB hits, 8 tackles and 3 tackles for loss today and seemed to spend a good chunk of his time in the Falcons’ offensive backfield.

ILB Perry Riley led everyone with 10 tackles, none bigger than the huge stop he put on Steven Jackson on fourth and one from the Washington one yard line. It was a great tackle — aided by penetration from NT Barry Cofield — by Riley and a great goal line stand by the defense. It’s not Riley’s fault Kirk Cousins threw an interception on the very next play.

I like what I saw today from DL Chris Baker in his first NFL start. He got some push on his rushes and was stout against the run, repeatedly helping teammates drag down Steven Jackson for short gains or less. Also like the way Baker sheds blocks — he’s got good balance. I think Baker is a keeper for the Redskins. He’s still not as consistent as I’d like, but he’s big, strong and not too slow. I think he’s got a future in the NFL, hopefully with the Skins.

THE BAD… Obviously, it starts with the seven turnovers. It tells you how bad the Falcons are that they were given 7 turnovers today, but were only one failed 2-point conversion away from losing. Cousins committed 3 turnovers [2 bad interceptions and a sack-fumble], while WR/PR Santana Moss and RB Alfred Morris lost two fumbles apiece.

The special teams only had one truly awful play today, but it was bad — when PR Santana Moss decided not to catch a punt in the second quarter, but also decided he should touch the ball anyway. The Falcons recovered deep in Washington territory. The defense held Atlanta to three points, but that’s a good job by the defense, nothing for the special teams to be proud of. I don’t see how Special Teams Coach Keith Burns gets a job above the Pop Warner level next year.

THE UGLY… What could be uglier than the seven turnovers? The worst were Morris’ two fumbles because they both happened deep in Atlanta territory, where the Redskins would have come up with at least  points, probably more, and Cousins’ first pick, which he threw from his own end zone. Next play: Falcons TD. In all, the Falcons scored twenty points off Washington’s seven turnovers. The Redskins badly outgained the Falcons in this game. If they commit just, say, four turnovers, which is still a lot, the Redskins win the game easily.

THE STUDS… OLB Brian Orakpo, ILB Perry Riley on defense and WR Pierre Garcon [7-129-1-18.4] and WR Aldrick Robinson [4-99-24.8] on offense.

THE DUDS… It’s a case of “Pretty good game, but…” Morris ran well [18-98], but his two fumbles were deadly. Cousins threw well [29/45-381-3TD-2INT], but his three turnovers were terrible. And WR/RS Moss [8-64-1] caught the potentially-game-tying TD pass, but he turned the ball over twice, once deep in Redskins territory and once deep in Falcons territory.

WHAT IT ALL MEANS… Two terrible teams played in Atlanta yesterday and one of those terrible teams won because the other team refused to let them lose. It looked like the Redskins were still giving a pretty good effort [especially as compared to the New York Giants performance at home against the Seahawks], but it wasn’t enough. Kirk Cousins looked very good at other times, but made enough bad plays to help lose the game. He sort of reminds me of Rex Grossman in that way. Nevertheless, it’s difficult not to be impressed by the 80-yard drive the Redskins went on at the end of the game. Cousins was in the pistol on every play of that drive and completed passes two six different receivers [Garcon, Robinson, Moss, Roy Helu, Joshua Morgan, Logan Paulsen] on the 80-yard march to the end zone. Cousins was 10-13 for 85 yards and a TD pass on that final drive and that’s pretty darn impressive.

Cousins did a better job of getting rid of the ball than Robert Griffin III has done, mainly because he appears to keep his eyes downfield the entire time since he has no intention of running the ball. He looks for and hits his checkdown receivers more frequently than Griffin does, as well. Although he’s not the threat to run that Griffin is, Cousins is more athletic than people think and he runs those bootlegs and rollouts nicely and moves around in the pocket enough to buy himself time. When Griffin gets antsy in the pocket he’s going to run. When Cousins gets antsy in the pocket, he tries to buy more time to throw.

I thought Cousins responded well to adversity, getting right back to the passing game after an interception. He definitely looks like he can play quarterback in the NFL. However, he made some big mistakes and it must be acknowledged that Cousins faced a very poor pass defense against the Falcons. Atlanta’s defense is about the second-worst in the NFL against the pass and a key reason is that they are starting three rookies in the secondary. Any quarterback should have had success against that bunch and the Falcons defense has allowed opposing quarterbacks to have the best passer rating in the NFL this season. What Cousins did was impressive much of the day, but it also looks a lot like what has been done to the Falcons by other teams this season.

As for the rest of the team, I thought the defense played unusually well. The Falcons scored 20 of their 27 points off drives that started in Redskins territory. It was only on that first drive of the game, where the Falcons easily marched 83 yards for the opening score, where the defense looked overmatched. Otherwise, it was one of the better defensive performances of the season.

The special teams badly hurt the Redskins again on one play — which is an improvement over the previous week — and, again, made no big plays to help the team. So no change there. This group needs a complete overhaul.

As for the coaching drama, Mike Shanahan walked out of the postgame presser after five minutes because he didn’t want to answer questions about all the leaks that have been going on — mostly from Shanahan himself. The team is a mess and the man who picks the players and coaches the players, Mike Shanahan, is the reason. He needs to go as soon as the season is over.