Atlanta Falcons: It’s Not What You Do, But How You Do It

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    Falcons_Tony_G.jpgIt wasn’t about establishing bragging rights as much as it was a showing of pride.  After all, both the hometown Atlanta Falcons and visiting Washington Redskins came into the Georgia Dome on Sunday with identical, disappointing 3-10 records – and virtually nothing to brag about.

    Nonetheless, it wasn’t as boring a game as pre-game analysts had predicted either – predictions that were no doubt largely based on the Falcons’ tendencies to score quickly, but then allow their opponents to essentially climb back into games during the final two periods. That, coupled with the Redskins’ knack for scoring more points in the second quarter – 92 coming into the game to be exact – forecasters had the notion the game on Sunday would probably be a “sleeper” after halftime.

    Those same forecasters probably also took a glance at the Falcons’ last game against Green Bay to prove their point. After all, that was a game in which Atlanta went up 21-10 before the half, failed to gain a single first down during the entire third quarter, and was ultimately shut out the rest of the game, falling 22-21.

    But the matchup between Atlanta and Washington turned out to be quite different. As penalty-riddled, and turnover-prone as it was, it still managed to be a nail-biter for die-hard fans right down to the bitter end.

    Thanks to seven – yes, count them – seven Redskins’ turnovers and a good, old-fashioned, goal-line stand by Atlanta’s defensive unit, this one proved to be a “seat-warmer,” until the game’s 27-26 conclusion.

    True to form, the game began just as predicted.

    The Falcons jumped out to a 17-7 lead by the 10:43 mark in the second quarter by adding a short running score, a passing TD, and a field goal.

    But Washington, as foretold by their previous stats, responded on cue with 13 unanswered points in the same period. The ‘Skins amassed 192 total yards in that quarter alone, gaining seven first downs during the period – five through the air and two more on the ground. By the time the Falcons knew what had hit them, they were trailing 20-17.

    And somehow there was still a silver lining behind those gray clouds associated with the Falcons’ 2013 campaign, when the “Dirty Birds” were able to take advantage of those Washington miscues, scoring 20 points off turnovers, including three before intermission. That total of five lost fumbles by Washington tied a team record, and so goes Atlanta into the record books as well. And to think, all that mayhem in a domed stadium with a controlled temperature of about 70-degree, nonetheless.  (No need to blame Mother Nature this week.)

    Add two more interceptions by Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, playing in his first start and only second game at the helm of Washington’s offensive unit, has his effectiveness in throwing for 381 total yards and three touchdowns is downgraded.

    By the way, Atlanta wasn’t flawless either, also having coughed up the ball in the second period. But because quarterback Matt Ryan’s mishandle during a sack by Washington linebacker Ryan Kerrigan at 9:59 was sandwiched between back-to-back fumbles by both Washington running back Alfred Morris and wide receiver Santana Moss of Washington, the impact was minimized.

    But by the time the Redskins woke up and began their comeback with 8:01 left before the half, for the Falcons the turnaround had come too quick and furious. Atlanta managed to relinquish control of the score as quickly as they had drew first blood.

    “There was a stretch there early in the first half, where we really had some issues with some explosive plays,” said Falcons Coach Mike Smith. “It will be a great learning experience for our young players that were out there playing, but we found a way to win the ballgame.”

    Despite struggling with just 54 total rushing yards, Atlanta running back Steven Jackson was still able to find his way into the end zone in the third quarter for his second rushing touchdown of the day – this time on a 2-yard burst over right guard. Following another Matt Bryant field goal from 51-yards out, Atlanta regained the lead, 27-20.

    Jackson accounted for 39 of Atlanta’s 54 rushing yards.

    And never mind that the ‘Skins were allowed to run off 10 first downs in the fourth quarter, compared to just one for Atlanta.  And never mind that Washington went 3-for-3 on third-down conversions, during the same span. The Falcons somehow manage to hold on to a one-point lead, 26-27, with the game coming to a close.

    But the play of the day didn’t come until seconds were remaining in the contest. With just 39 seconds left in regulation, and on what would ultimately be the game’s final drive, Redskins Cousins hit Moss for a 3-yard TD to make it a one-point game, 27-26.

    And with nothing to lose but pride, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan opted to go for the two-point conversion and the win, rather than kick the extra point for the tie and a likely overtime period.

    If nothing else, you’ve got to give Shanahan credit for having guts. With all the controversy surrounding him sidelining starting quarterback Robert Griffin III last week, and whether he’ll be asked back to his coaching duties next season, Shanahan didn’t blink an eye when it came down to going for the win or the tie.

    According to Falcons.com writer Dan Levak, Shanahan has never been one to shy away from the controversial decision. Levak notes that in his four seasons as coach, Shanahan has gone for two-point conversions 11 times, converting six for a 55 percent success rate.

    This time, however, Cousins set up in a pass formation that didn’t fool the “Dirty Birds” at all. His pass intended for Pierre Garcon was batted down by Atlanta’s rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant, who by the way had already picked off a Cousins pass, thwarting Washington’s come back and savoring Atlanta’s fourth win of the season.

    Shanahan is now 2-for-5 in two-point conversions on the season.

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