For most of the afternoon, the Washington Redskins’ defense grounded the Falcons’ high-flying offense, holding Atlanta to three first-half points and reducing the NFL’s leading receiver, Julio Jones, to a bit player.

But as Sunday’s game at a raucous Georgia Dome ground on, the Redskins’ defense ran out of heroics, and their patchy offense failed to capitalize on a number of golden opportunities.

The result was a 25-19 overtime defeat that stung all the worse because of the manner in which it ended — an interception by quarterback Kirk Cousins, whose composure in a 24-second drive had forced overtime in the first place — and the glorious missed chance it represented.

Atlanta’s game-winning interception wasn’t entirely Cousins’s fault. Trying to correct an apparent miscommunication, wide receiver Ryan Grant slipped while changing direction, making the ball easy pickings for cornerback Robert Alford, who ran it back for the score that ended it. It was Alford’s second pick of the day.

“I don’t know what to say on that,” Coach Jay Gruden said afterward, proud of his team’s fight but taking no solace in what might have been. “We’re sick no matter who we lose to.”

The Washington Post's Keith McMillan and Scott Allen discuss the Redskins' Week 5 loss to the Falcons (Thomas Johnson and Randolph Smith/The Washington Post)

The Redskins fell to 2-3 in defeat, missing a chance to lift their record above .500 for the first time since 2012. They also let a winnable game get away — a game, had they prevailed, that would have made a bold statement around the NFL, coming not only on the road but against an unbeaten Falcons squad that’s now 5-0 under first-year Coach Dan Quinn.

What began as a series of field goal makes and misses came to a wild conclusion in which the Redskins got a cat’s worth of lives.

After bolting to an early lead, dominating the first half and leading with less than one minute remaining, the Redskins appeared washed up for good when Atlanta’s do-it-all running back, Devonta Freeman, who rushed for a game-high 153 yards and caught seven passes, hauled in what looked like the game-winning catch with linebacker Will Compton draped at his ankles.

The catch was overruled on review, and the crowd of 70,178 erupted. The Redskins’ reprieve was short-lived, with Freeman rumbling in for the touchdown that put Atlanta up 19-16 with 24 seconds remaining.

To the shock of jubilant Falcons fans, Cousins, who had been less than sharp for much of the afternoon, fired consecutive completions to tight end Derek Carrier, a leaping Pierre Garcon and rookie Jamison Crowder, who stepped out of bounds just in time to give Dustin Hopkins a last-gasp chance to force overtime.

After missing earlier from 53 yards, Hopkins hit from 52 yards as the clock expired.

Cornerback Robert Alford, right, intercepts a Kirk Cousins overtime pass intended for Washington wide receiver Ryan Grant and runs it all the way back to end the game. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

But overtime lasted less than three minutes, ending on the interception.

Cousins, who was 21 for 32 for 219 yards , one touchdown and the two interceptions , said he couldn’t say with confidence what went awry until reviewing the film. “I just know that I tried to put it where I felt it needed to be put,” he said.

Although that one throw settled it, the Redskins’ offensive performance was riddled with plenty of throws that were slightly off or missed entirely.

Washington’s defense forced three turnovers — a sack fumble caused by defensive end Chris Baker and interceptions by Trenton Robinson and Bashaud Breeland. The offense, though, scored only three points off of those extra opportunities.

Gruden was frank about needing a better performance from Cousins going forward, noting that he made some big-time throws and missed other.

“We’re going to demand better from Kirk,” Gruden said, “and he will get better.”

It was also a disappointing day for the Redskins’ running game, which was averaging an NFL-best 139.5 yards per outing. The Falcons held the Redskins to just 51 yards on the ground while rolling up 176 rushing yards themselves.

Alfred Morris, who carried just eight times for 15 yards , lamented the inconsistency.

Gruden again called more on rookie Matt Jones (11 carries, 20 yards ), but it didn’t help the overall production — even though Jones rushed for a two-yard touchdown that started the scoring after a scoreless first quarter. As a team, the Redskins averaged 2.1 yards per carry.

While quarterback Matt Ryan fared even worse than Cousins — 24 for 42 for 254 yards and two interceptions — Freeman turned out to be all Atlanta needed.

But Breeland led an impressive group effort in containing star wideout Julio Jones (five catches, 67 yards). Jones’s only score was a freakish, heads-up play, the recovery of a teammate’s fumble in the end zone to hand the Falcons their first lead at 12-7 in the fourth quarter.

After a ragged start by both teams, Robinson came up with the Redskins’ first interception of the season five minutes in, handing the ball back to the offense on the Washington 25. It amounted to naught, though, with Cousins missing a third-and-eight throw to Carrier.

On Washington’s subsequent drive, Cousins first threw just beyond Garcon’s grasp in the end zone but on the next play connected with Carrier on a seven-yard strike to cap a 12-play drive.

Redskins rookie Kyshoen Jarrett spoiled Ryan’s attempt to knot the score, and Atlanta settled for a 42-yard field goal.

Cousins’s first interception came on a third-and-10 throw intended for Garcon, picked off instead by Alford, who ran it back to the Washington 40.

Baker limited the damage with the sack-fumble that gave the ball back to Washington’s offense. Again, it was a fruitless possession.

With 27 seconds remaining in the first half, Compton made a terrific tackle to prevent a conversion on third and six. Falcons fans booed when Quinn called up his field goal unit on fourth and one with five seconds left. Place kicker Matt Bryant clanged the 38-yard attempt off the post, sending Washington into the break with its 7-3 lead intact.