Mike Shanahan wasn’t going to let the Atlanta Falcons get the top pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Not on his watch. With the game on the line and staring at a 3-11 record, Shanahan decided not to make fans at the Georgia Dome suffer through anymore bad football.
After Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins connected with wide receiver Santana Moss for a 3-yard touchdown pass that could have tied up the game at 27 with the extra point, Shanahan instead went for two and the win. It didn’t work out, but who could blame him?
Falcons coach Mike Smith didn’t even want to talk about it.
“I’m not going to comment on Coach Shanahan’s strategy,” Smith said after the game. “He chooses to do what he deems best for his football team. We were prepared. We were able to get our match with the personnel.”
It was hard to blame him either.
After an auspicious 14-play, 83-yard drive by the Falcons’ offense to start the game, a malaise set in on both sides and hovered around the Georgia Dome for the remainder of the afternoon. It was ugly, but a win for the Falcons, nonetheless, as they beat the RG3-less Washington Redskins 27-26.
The game had a host of low-lights, including three fumbles on three straight plays. And that was just the icing on the cake.
The back-to-back-to-back fumbles were a microcosm of how ugly the game got inside the Georgia Dome, but they illustrated just a shadow of the totality of penalties, poor plays and inept execution from the Falcons and Redskins on Sunday.
It started at the top. Falcons head coach Mike Smith made several coaching decisions that could only come from a rigidly conventional man who has been cudgeled by outsiders into ceasing conventional thinking. The most glaring example being the decision to have Ryan throw deep with 43 seconds left in the second quarter and the Falcons on their own 10 yard line. The pass was intercepted by Washington strong safety Jose Gumbs to set up a field goal that gave the Redskins the lead going into halftime, 20-17.
The first half had a total of six turnovers. By the end of the game there had been nine, seven coming from Washington. Both #WASvsATL and “Falcons and Redskins” were trending on Twitter, and not for any of the reasons fans of the Falcons, Redskins or good football would hope for.
“A ‘W’ is a ‘W’,” said Falcons safety William Moore. “When you play a good Redskins team like that, anything is possible to happen. It’s just one of those games where they decided to go for two, and tried to go for the win and came up short.”
That’s to say nothing of the dropped punts by Harry Douglas and Santana Moss, the throws by Cousins right to Falcons defenders or Ryan’s indefatigable desire to sail balls into double coverage for most of the game. There were also several dropped passes, a litany of penalties and a host of bad decisions by both coaches, quarterbacks and just about everyone else on the field.
Cousins and running back Alfred Morris filled an impressive stat sheet for the Skins, finishing with 381 yards passing and 98 yards rushing, respectively. But the numbers were hardly a reflection of stellar play, as Cousins, particularly, looked ill prepared to win as a starting quarterback in the NFL. His three turnovers and 1-for-5 red zone conversion rate were key to keeping Atlanta in the game. Morris also had two fumbles and the Falcons scored 20 points off of Redskins’ turnovers.
“We just didn’t do enough to win,” said Cousins. “Two interceptions that were on me. A fumble that you don’t want to have. The failed attempt at a two-point conversion, that was on me. Those are four plays right there that if they go differently, it’s probably a much better result. It’s a tough one to swallow right now and we will learn from it and get better.”
The Falcons had two turnovers of their own, but the team’s biggest problem was stopping the big play. The secondary was twice beaten downfield for big gains in the passing game. It’s a problem that has plagued the team all season.
“It was a learning day for those rookies,” said Smith, whose defense started rookie Desmond Trufant as well as rookie safety Zeke Motta in place of the injured Thomas DeCoud this week. “We gave up some big, explosive plays on the corners, but we came back and made a play… We need to continue to focus on not giving up those explosive plays. It has been our Achilles heel for the entire season this year on defense.”
There were some positives for Falcons fans on the field, though. Steven Jackson looked like Steven Jackson again, even if his stats didn’t show it. He ran for 38 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, running over, around and through Washington defenders as if it were 2006 all over again (Jackson rushed for 1528 yards and 13 touchdowns that season).
Tony Gonzalez also joined another legendary group, becoming just the fifth receiver in NFL history to notch 15,000 receiving yards. Only Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss and Isaac Bruce had previously reached that milestone. Gonzalez had 6 catches for 62 yards and a touchdown to lead the Falcons in receiving on the day.