Here are four takeaways from the Redskins’ 38-14 loss to the Falcons:
Redskins lose the battle on the ground: At times during their three-game winning streak, the Redskins’ run defense looked like the second coming of the 1985 Bears, and Washington’s offensive line was creating holes for Adrian Peterson that would’ve made the original Hogs proud. The winning formula was simple: stop the run and run the ball. The Redskins did neither of those things Sunday. Atlanta came into the game with the league’s 31st-ranked rushing attack, averaging a paltry 3.7 yards per carry, but Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith combined for 148 yards on 23 carries against a Washington rushing defense that was allowing 80 yards per game. Offensively, Peterson never got going against the Falcons’ mediocre defense, finishing with nine carries for 17 yards. In the Redskins’ three losses, Peterson has totaled 24 carries for 43 yards.
Third down woes: At one point late in the first half, Fox play-by-play man Kevin Burkhardt wondered if an NFL team had ever converted 100 percent of its third downs in a game. No team has since at least 1991, according to Pro Football Reference, but the Falcons made a bid. Atlanta entered Sunday with the league’s second-best conversion rate on third down and converted all eight of their opportunities in the first half, prompting Redskins Coach Jay Gruden to tell Fox’s Pam Oliver at halftime, “We’ve been a joke on third down.” Atlanta finished 10 for 13 on third down, the last conversion a 35-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones on third-and-two late in the fourth quarter that put the final touches on a rout. Washington’s inability to get off the field was a major reason the Falcons were able to put up 38 points against a defense that was allowing 19.1 points per game.
Too many penalties: A holding penalty on Shawn Lauvao derailed Washington’s first possession and was a sign of things to come, as the Redskins were penalized 10 times for 147 yards in the loss. Most of the flags were of the offensive holding variety, which may have been at least partly a result of a shakeup along the offensive line. In addition to left tackle Trent Williams, who was inactive for the game, Lauvao and Brandon Scherff both exited the game with injuries. The situation was so bad that defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis was prepared to fill in as an emergency replacement if another offensive lineman went down. One series in the third quarter provided a microcosm of the Redskins’ afternoon. Josh Doctson was flagged 15 yards for taunting after spinning the ball along the Falcons’ sideline with Washington trailing 28-7. Two plays later, a holding penalty on Scherff wiped out a 25-yard gain by Peterson on a screen pass. Then, while trainers tended to an injured Scherff, Morgan Moses gave a referee an earful and was whistled for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Not enough pressure: The Redskins’ pass rush, which was so effective at generating pressure against the Cowboys and Giants over the last two weeks, failed to get Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan out of his comfort zone. Washington’s only two sacks came on Atlanta’s final possession of the first half, which resulted in a touchdown. Ryan was 26 for 38 for 350 yards and four touchdowns. He had all day to throw on third down and his only interception came when rookie Calvin Ridley appeared to run the wrong route in the first quarter. Jones torched the Redskins’ secondary, including new acquisition Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, for 121 yards on seven catches and Ridley added six catches for 71 yards. Coleman routinely found himself open out of the backfield and finished with five catches for 68 yards and two touchdowns, in addition to his 88 yards on the ground.
Final: Falcons 38, Redskins 14
Washington falls to 5-3 with a loss to Atlanta at home, but remains in first place in the NFC East with the 4-4 Eagles on a bye.
Game updates and analysis
Julio Jones finally finds the end zone in rout: Jones, whose last touchdown came in Week 12 of last season, would not be denied the end zone after taking a short screen pass from Matt Ryan and turning on the jets for a 35-yard touchdown reception. Jones shook off a would-be tackle by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at the five-yard line before diving across the goal line. He was mobbed by his teammates after breaking his scoreless drought and upped his team-leading totals to seven catches for 121 yards. (Falcons 38, Redskins 14, 3:45 4th Quarter)
Interception gives Atlanta the ball right back: After playing turnover-free football during the Redskins’ three-game winning streak, Alex Smith threw his first interception since Week 5. Falcons safety Damontae Kazee used some nifty footwork to get both feet down after catching a deflection off the hands of Vernon Davis along the right sideline. (Falcons 31, Redskins 14, 6:56 4th Quarter)
Field goal gives Falcons a three-score lead: Atlanta burned nearly seven minutes off the clock while marching 72 yards on 10 plays before Giorgio Tavecchio booted a 27-yard field goal. The big play of the drive was a 47-yard pass interference call on Josh Norman, who dove to tackle Julio Jones before the ball arrived to prevent the wide receiver from making a Willie Mays-style over-the head catch. (Falcons 31, Redskins 14, 7:09 4th Quarter)
Redskins forced to punt: With Trent Williams inactive, Shawn Lauvao and Brandon Scherff both downgraded to out with injuries suffered earlier in the game and Morgan Moses playing at less than 100 percent, the offensive line has struggled to protect Alex Smith. Morgan was called for his fourth holding call of the game on third-and-three early in the fourth quarter, but Atlanta declined the penalty after forcing Smith out of bounds for a sack. An improbable comeback will probably require another takeaway by the defense. (Falcons 28, Redskins 14, 13:57 4th Quarter)
Washington’s defense forces a three-and-out: For the first time all afternoon, the Falcons’ offense looks out of sync. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Josh Norman combined to bring down Julio Jones short of the line to gain on third-and-long. (Falcons 28, Redskins 14, 0:37 3rd Quarter)
Redskins cut Falcons’ lead to 28-14: Kapri Bibbs’s three-yard touchdown run has given Washington life late in the third quarter. The Redskins overcame yet another holding penalty and converted a fourth down on the scoring drive when Alex Smith found Vernon Davis for a 10-yard gain. Bibbs’s touchdown was the first in the third quarter for the Redskins all season. (Falcons 28 Redskins 14, 2:15 3rd Quarter)
The Falcons failed to convert a third down: Matt Bosher did not make the trip to Landover in vain. Bosher came on for his first punt of the game after Atlanta failed to convert on third-and-four. That makes the Falcons 8 for 9 on third-down conversions. (Falcons 28, Redskins 7, 5:57 3rd Quarter)
Redskins continue to hurt themselves: Washington’s first possession of the second half featured two familiar sights: penalty flags and an offensive lineman on the ground in pain. Two plays after Josh Doctson was penalized for taunting for spinning the ball along the Falcons’ sideline after making a difficult catch, a Brandon Scherff holding penalty wiped out a 25-yard screen pass to Adrian Peterson. That brought out the boo birds at FedEx Field. Scherff was injured later in the series, and while Redskins trainers attended to him, Morgan Moses was flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct after arguing with a referee. Fox’s Pam Oliver reported that defensive lineman Matt Ioannidis is the next man up on the depth chart if Washington’s offensive line suffers another injury. Welp. (Falcons 28, Redskins 7, 7:26 3rd Quarter)
Falcons pick up where they left off, take 28-7 lead: If the Redskins made any halftime defensive adjustments, they didn’t work on Atlanta’s first possession of the third quarter. Running back Tevin Coleman capped an eight-play, 75-yard drive with his second touchdown reception of the game. The Falcons didn’t even face a third down on the drive while carving up Washington’s defense. The Redskins haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this season, but Coleman is up to 72 yards on 10 carries. (Falcons 28, Redskins 7, 9:58, 3rd Quarter)
Halftime: Falcons 21, Redskins 7
The Redskins were in position to add a field goal before halftime and perhaps head into the locker room feeling a little better about themselves, but a holding penalty on Morgan Moses wiped out a long completion to Josh Doctson that went straight through Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant’s hands. It’s been that type of game for Washington, which committed four of the five penalties called in the first half, allowed Atlanta to convert all eight of its third downs and has been outgained 289-164. Adrian Peterson managed only 15 yards on six carries, and with the Redskins trailing by 14, his touches could be limited in the second half.
Calvin Ridley gives Falcons a 21-7 lead with 40-yard touchdown catch: Atlanta is now a ridiculous 8 for 8 on third down after the rookie Ridley caught a pass over the middle on third-and-eight and outran the Redskins’ defense into the end zone. Ryan Kerrigan and Matt Ioannidis registered Washington’s first two sacks of the game earlier in the drive, but if the Redskins’ pass rush can’t get home on Matt Ryan on third down, the Falcons’ quarterback is going to continue to pick apart Washington’s secondary. Ryan is 15 for 23 for 239 yards and two touchdowns. (Falcons 21, Redskins 7, 0:28 2nd Quarter)
Redskins cut into Falcons’ lead with Josh Doctson touchdown catch: Stop the presses: The fade worked. Perhaps even more surprising, Josh Doctson caught the ball. Doctson’s difficult two-yard touchdown grab capped an 11-play, 80-yard drive the Redskins desperately needed. The key play of the march was a 22-yard scramble by quarterback Alex Smith, who somehow eluded what looked to be a sure sack before racing down the right sideline. Smith took a huge hit at the end of the run from Falcons cornerback Brian Poole after not stepping out of bounds, but shook it off to complete his next two passes, including the oft unsuccesful fade route to Doctson. We’ve got a ballgame. (Falcons 14, Redskins 7, 3:10 2nd Quarter)
Redskins injury updates: Cornerback Quinton Dunbar, who had an interception in the first quarter, is questionable to return with a leg injury. Right tackle Morgan Moses, who was helped off the field in the first quarter with a knee injury, has returned to the game. (Falcons 14, Redskins 0, 8:45 2nd Quarter)
Atlanta takes 14-0 lead on Ito Smith touchdown run: The Redskins’ highly touted defense is looking a lot like it did in Week 5 at New Orleans, which is to say, porous. Atlanta marched 86 yards on nine plays, the capper a 12-yard touchdown run by rookie Ito Smith. Julio Jones had two catches for 47 yards on the drive and Austin Hooper converted an important third down with a 20-yard reception. Tevin Coleman only had one carry for six yards, but he had two key blitz pickups for the Falcons, who have converted all six of their third downs. The Redskins have yet to sack Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. That has to change if Washington is to slow the Falcons’ high-octane attack. (Falcons 14, Redskins 0, 9:10 2nd Quarter)
Washington punts again: The Redskins flipped the field after Quinton Dunbar’s interception, but they weren’t able to turn the turnover into points. On third-and-12 from the Washington 42-yard line, Alex Smith completed a short pass to Jordan Reed, but Falcons linebacker De’Vondre Campbell made an open-field tackle to prevent a first down and bring on Tress Way for his third punt of the game. Atlanta has outgained Washington 143-41 thus far. (Falcons 7, Redskins 0, 13:29 2nd Quarter)
Quinton Dunbar ends Falcons’ threat with an interception: Atlanta looked poised to add to its 7-0 lead on its second possession after marching into Redskins territory with a mix of runs and passes, but then the Falcons’ offense made a rare mistake. Matt Ryan’s pass intended for rookie Calvin Ridley floated into the arms of Redskins cornerback Quinton Dunbar, who missed the last two games with an injury, at the Washington nine-yard line. The interception was Ryan’s third of the season and only Atlanta’s fifth turnover of the year. (Falcons 7, Redskins 0, 1:14 1st Quarter)
Josh Doctson drop ends Washington’s second drive: Morgan Moses’s holding penalty set the Redskins back, but they should’ve moved the chains when Alex Smith found Josh Doctson just beyond the line to gain. One problem: Doctson dropped the ball. It was the wide receiver’s second drop in the series and it was followed by Tress Way’s second punt of the game. (Falcons 7, Redskins 0, 6:28 1st Quarter)
Another injury along the Redskins’ offensive line: For the second consecutive drive, a Washington offensive lineman had to helped off the field. This time, it was right tackle Morgan Moses, who was called for holding and had his leg rolled up on by teammate Tony Bergstrom on the same play. Talk about a double-whammy. With Trent Williams already out after undergoing thumb surgery, the Redskins’ offensive line is danger of being every bit as depleted as last season. Geron Christian Sr. entered the game in place of Moses. (Falcons 7, Redskins 0, 8:01 1st Quarter)
Shawn Lauvao is questionable to return: As cameras showed Lauvao being taken to the locker room in a wheelchair, Fox’s Pam Oliver reported that the left guard’s return was questionable. (Falcons 7, Redskins 0, 8:56 1st Quarter)
Falcons strike first on 39-yard touchdown pass: Tevin Coleman capped a seven-play, 81-yard drive with a 39-yard touchdown reception to give Atlanta the early lead in Landover. Mohamed Sanu, who had a 12-yard reception on third down earlier in the drive, made the key block on Coleman’s catch-and-run. The Falcons entered the game second in the NFL in third-down conversion percentage and were 2 for 2 on their first possession, including a 24-yard completion from Matt Ryan to Austin Hooper on third-and-seven. The Redskins are 0-2 when their opponent scores first this season. (Falcons 7, Redskins 0, 9:46 1st Quarter)
Redskins off to an inauspicious start: The Falcons won the toss and deferred, giving the Redskins the ball first. After a four-yard run by Adrian Peterson on first down, a questionable holding penalty on Shawn Lauvao negated a completion to Jordan Reed that would’ve moved the chains. On the next play, Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett bull-rushed Lauvao and sacked Alex Smith for a loss of nine. To make matters worse, Lauvao was injured on the play and replaced by Tony Bergstrom. After Washington picked up nine yards on a screen pass to Maurice Harris on third-and-long, Tress Way boomed a 62-yard punt. (Redskins 0, Falcons 0, 13:34 1st Quarter)
There aren’t any surprises among the list of Redskins inactives. Cornerback Quinton Dunbar and wide receiver Paul Richardson Jr. are both active after appearing on the injury report this week.
The FedEx Field turf is looking nice for early November.
It’s Salute to Service Day in Landover.
Washington Redskins (5-2) vs. Atlanta Falcons (3-4)
Kickoff: 1 p.m., FedEx Field
TV: Fox | Radio: 630, 980 AM; 92.7, 94.3, 105.9 FM
Line: Redskins by 2
During their three-game winning streak, the Redskins have run the ball effectively with Adrian Peterson, forced turnovers and limited their opponents’s top offensive weapons. All three of those tasks could be a little more difficult against the Falcons, who look to get back to .500 after starting 1-4.
Redskins all-pro left tackle Trent Williams, a key component of Washington’s eighth-ranked rushing attack, will miss the game after undergoing thumb surgery. Ty Nsekhe will start in his place. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has been among the best in the league in taking care of the ball this season, with 15 touchdowns against only two interceptions. Defensively, Washington bolstered its secondary by trading for Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix on Tuesday. Clinton-Dix and his new teammates will have their hands full against the NFL’s third-ranked passing offense, led by Ryan and wide receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley.
This post will be updated throughout Sunday’s game.