Falcons vs. Redskins: Atlanta's Biggest Winners and Losers from NFL Week 5
It was a defensive battle throughout, with the teams trading punts for much of a first half that ended tied 7-7.
A Billy Cundiff field goal made it 10-7 early in the second half, but a big hit on quarterback Robert Griffin III midway through the third quarter forced him out of the game.
The Redskins didn't give up, however, with second-string quarterback Kirk Cousins finding Santana Moss for a 77-yard touchdown and a 17-14 lead.
But neither did the Falcons, who clawed their way back to take a slim 24-17 lead with three minutes left in the fourth quarter. That's all it would take, as Cousins would go on to throw interceptions on Washington's final two drives to seal the game.
Here are the Falcons' biggest winners and losers from the game.
Winner: Tony Gonzalez
When Dirk Koetter brought his three-wide passing attack to Atlanta, fans wondered if future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez would be forced to take a back seat.
As it turns out, he's the main attraction.
Gonzalez finished with a team-high 13 catches for 123 yards and a touchdown Sunday, making key drive-sustaining plays all afternoon.
With the Redskins secondary blanketing Atlanta's receivers downfield, Ryan often checked the ball down to Gonzalez, who would do the rest, fighting his way through linebackers and defensive backs to gain extra yardage.
The 16-year veteran now leads the team in catches with 39 on the season and is on pace to set new career highs by the year's end.
Loser: Defensive Line
The scene in this picture was a common one Sunday: running back Alfred Morris cruising his way into the Falcons secondary.
Morris finished with 115 yards on 18 carries for a 6.4 rushing average, the second 100-yard game of his career.
Key to his performance was the Falcons' porous defensive line.
Atlanta's front four was dominated at the point of attack, unable to shed off blocks and allowing Morris to consistently run wild on outside runs.
As the fifth-ranked rusher facing the 29th-ranked rushing defense, a strong showing by Morris was to be expected.
But the Falcons nonetheless can't be happy with their defensive linemen. They'll need to turn things around quickly in practice this week with Darren McFadden coming to town next Sunday.
Winner: 3rd-Down Defense
While they had trouble on first and second down, the Falcons defenders know they can celebrate this week because they won when it counted most: on third down.
Atlanta held the Redskins to just one third-down conversion on nine attempts for an 11 percent conversion rate.
Washington's first third-down conversion came with 12 minutes left to play.
While the Redskins happened to score a touchdown on that play, it should be noted the score came as a result of a blown coverage.
For a Falcons team that had previously given up the fifth-highest percentage of third-down attempts (48 percent), Sunday's performance will be something to build on moving forward.
Loser: Matt Ryan
Statistically, it was one of Ryan's better performances: 34-of-52 for 345 yards and two touchdowns with an interception.
On the field, however, it was far from a memorable day.
Ryan was fortunate to come away with just one interception Sunday after making many dangerous throws into double and even triple coverage against a surprisingly stout Redskins secondary.
When he did have a man open downfield, Ryan's pass was either widely off-target or his receiver dropped the ball.
Fortunately for Atlanta, Ryan was able to take what the defense gave him and dinked and dunked his way to victory.
But if their inability to connect on the deep pass becomes the norm and not a hiccup, the Falcons could soon see their first loss of the season.
Winner: Sean Weatherspoon
Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon will be remembered for delivering the hit that took Griffin III out of the game.
But that's not all he should be remembered for.
The third-year veteran played one of his best games of the season, leading the team in tackles with eight solo and three assisted along with the aforementioned sack of Griffin III.
If he wasn't making the play, he was often around it, from plugging holes at the point of attack to finishing off the ball carrier down the field.
Had it not been for Weatherspoon's solid performance, Morris may still be running.
Loser...and Winner: Offensive Line
It was an up-and-down day for the Falcons offensive line.
First, the positive: pass protection.
The Falcons gave up just one sack against the Redskins, and it came on Ryan's 49th drop back. Atlanta's offensive linemen otherwise provided Ryan with a very clean pocket most of the game, giving him all day to throw the ball.
It's a great improvement compared to last week's seven-sack performance.
But what has yet to improve is the line's run blocking.
On more than a few occasions, Turner was met by two, sometimes three Washington defenders in the backfield the moment he received the hand-off.
Fortunately, he was able to power his way through to finish the game with 67 yards on the ground, but unless the run-blocking improves, Turner and the rest of Atlanta's offense could be in big trouble the day Ryan struggles through the air.
It almost proved to be the case Sunday.
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