Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan celebrates as he scores on an interception against the Atlanta Falcons Sunday (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

The Washington Redskins fell 24-17 Sunday to the undefeated Atlanta Falcons and dropped to 2-3 on the season. With the defeat, the Redskins’ extended their home losing streak to eight games, dating back to Week 2 of the 2011 season. That victory also marked the last time the Redskins have strung together consecutive wins.

The 4-1 Minnesota Vikings come to town next Sunday. But first, here are five observations from Washington’s loss to Atlanta.

1.)    Griffin has to protect himself – The Redskins love Robert Griffin III’s athleticism, playmaking ability and fearlessness. But the rookie quarterback has to play smarter, and figure out when to throw the ball away and protect himself. On the third-and-goal play that knocked Griffin out of the game, the Falcons did a good job of taking away Griffin’s options, and the quarterback continued rolling to his right, hoping something would open up. He didn’t see anything so he finally tucked the ball and tried to get to the end zone. Griffin hadn’t even made it back to the line of scrimmage when he was hit in the head by Sean Weatherspoon.

No doubt Griffin now knows he should have thrown the ball away instead of trying to run. Linebacker London Fletcher said, “We’d like to have him throw the ball away there, but he’s a competitor, and you can’t fault him for that.” You don’t want to stifle a player’s competitive fire, but the Redskins didn’t have Griffin in the clutch when they needed him. Backup Kirk Cousins threw a 77-yard touchdown pass, but on the two possessions in the final two minutes of play showed he isn’t NFL ready. Obviously a week of practice would have helped him, but on his first interception, he never saw Daunta Robinson come off his man to pick off Cousins’ pass for Fred Davis. The other play, Cousins said he should’ve just gone to a check-down (Josh Morgan was open underneath) or throw the ball away. Cousins may someday be a fine NFL quarterback, but Redskins players said losing Griffin significantly changed what they were able to do. Those two potential game-winning drives very well could have turned out differently with Griffin on the field. The Redskins need Griffin to learn from this right away. As he had said when talking about getting rid of the ball more quickly on option plays, “You take some of those shots to the face and you’ll learn real fast.” Hopefully that will be the case in this situation as well.

2.)    Third downs – The offense’s inability to convert on third down remains a big issue. Washington was 1-for-9 in those situations against Atlanta. Because they were unable to sustain drives, the Redskins saw the Falcons hold the ball for 37 minutes compared to their 23. The defense already is struggling to get off the field, and these offensive struggles put more pressure on the unit. The Redskins continue to stress the need to put themselves in manageable third down situations. But only three times Sunday did they face third-and-short. On one, Alfred Morris was stopped for a two-yard loss. Morris gained  only one yard on another try, when he needed two. And on the third, Griffin suffered his concussion.

On the other six third downs, Washington needed seven yards or more and came up short all but one time (the Cousins-to-Moss touchdown). The Falcons, meanwhile, converted nine of 17 third downs for first downs. Atlanta certainly wasn’t perfect on third down, but what helped was the fact that the team had only five third downs when they needed seven yards or more. The percentages of success greatly increase when you’re in that situation.  There were a number of dropped balls on some of those third-downs. Pierre Garcon needs to step up. The Redskins paid him a lot of money to be a big time receiver. Yesterday he didn’t come through.

3.)    Defense still searching – The Redskins held the Falcons to their season low in points scored (Atlanta previously hadn’t scored fewer than 27 points), but Washington had no answer for future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez. Having kept Roddy White and Julio Jones in check, the Redskins would have been happy with themselves had they been able to come out with the win. Instead, the defensive players pointed to areas where they didn’t do enough.

Despite forcing two turnovers (and scoring on one of them), the Redskins allowed the Falcons to orchestrate too many clock-dominating drives. They felt like they gave Atlanta too many chances. And eventually, facing a potent offense like the Falcons have, a unit will wear down and have some lapses. There were missed tackles late, and those led to second-effort gains to extend drives. There were missed coverage assignments (particularly the touchdown pass to Jones, who got free with a double-move and Reed Doughty appeared to be late in coming over the top to support Josh Wilson). The Redskins couldn’t get much pressure with their three and four-man blitz packages, as they chose to drop more players into coverage instead. At times, when Washington did send additional blitzers, they still couldn’t get to Ryan. The search for a complete effort out of the defense continues.

 4.)    Field goal woes – Billy Cundiff said he should’ve made the 31-yarder. A frustrated Mike Shanahan called the attempt a chip shot. Indeed, you shouldn’t have to hold your breath on those kicks. That’s the range where your kicker should be automatic. Cundiff has now missed four field goals in the last two games. Since going 4-for-4 in the season opener, he is 3-for-8. Don’t be surprised to see the Redskins look elsewhere for a resolution to this situation.

 5.)    A few bright spots – OK, how about some positivity? This unit was one of serious concern entering the season, but the Redskins continue to receive an overall good effort from the guys up front. Aside from the concussion-inducing sack (Griffin was outside the pocket), Washington let the Falcons get to their quarterback two other times. And for a second straight week, the line paved the way for a 100-yard rushing performance by Alfred Morris, who continues to get better as the weeks progress. Morris also saw more time on third downs, which suggests that coaches like his development. He wasn’t perfect in pass protection, but did have some key blocks.

Second-year linebacker Ryan Kerrigan also displayed growth Sunday. One of the areas he wanted to improve this season was in pass coverage, and he said on his interception, he recognized right away that a screen was coming based on how the offensive tackle let him come past with little effort. From there, Kerrigan read Matt Ryan’s eyes, and timed the throw to make the interception. Kerrigan wasn’t happy with his pass rushing for the day. But without Kerrigan’s pick-six, Washington wouldn’t have been in the game late at all.

For fan reaction to Griffin’s injury, check out The Root DC: