Redskins vs. Falcons: Full Roster Report Card Grades for Atlanta
The squads combined for nine turnovers, and neither team looked like it was capable of holding a lead for very long.
Nevertheless, one team had to come out on top, and that team was Atlanta on Sunday thanks to a key defensive play by Falcons rookie cornerback Desmond Trufant.
Let's analyze how Atlanta hung on for its fourth win on Sunday by breaking down our weekly full roster report card grades for the Falcons from this Week 15 contest.
ALL GAME STATS ARE VIA NFL.COM.
Matt Ryan spread the ball around, but the offense looked pretty stale outside of its first two touchdown drives and most of Ryan's completions only went for short gains.
In fact, you can make a strong argument that Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins outplayed Matt Ryan on Sunday.
Washington's defense hasn't exactly been locking opposing teams down this year, so Falcons fans would've liked to have seen more production from Ryan's offense against the 'Skins.
Outside of his Madden-style truck at the goal line on Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson in the first quarter, Falcons running back Steven Jackson failed to pace the offense on the ground against a leaky Washington run defense.
Sure, Jackson had two touchdowns, but 38 yards on 15 carries against that Redskins team just isn't getting it done. Jackson may or may not be in the team's plans for next season, and he didn't do very much to help his case on Sunday.
Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling also had pretty pedestrian games.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Tony Gonzalez continued to play like the classy professional that he is in light of his team's poor season. His nimble footwork on his first touchdown reception looked as smooth as it did on the first touchdown pass he caught as a Falcon in the season opener against Miami over four years ago.
Roddy White and Harry Douglas also had solid outings, but neither of them was able to make any of the explosive plays that this offense needed to take the lid off of Washington's defense.
It was nice to see rookie wide receiver Darius Johnson step up and make a crucial third-down catch on Atlanta's first scoring drive. He could be a nice role player for the team moving forward.
Rookie right tackle Ryan Schraeder got the start and gave up a sack that led to a fumble for the second week in a row.
Lamar Holmes also gave up a sack to Redskins linebacker Brian Orapko, but he still appears to be the team's best pass-blocker at tackle even though his run blocking isn't where it needs to be.
Joe Hawley played with a little attitude at center, but right guard remains an issue for Atlanta, as the team got a look at what it has in Harland Gunn at that spot against Washington. Gunn didn't disappoint, but he didn't do anything to separate himself from the crowd either.
This unit was hot and cold for most of the game, but its worst play may have come when the Falcons were stuffed on a fourth-down run attempt from the Washington 1-yard line early in the third quarter. Ryan Schraeder and Garrett Reynolds were both pushed into the backfield on the play before Redskins linebacker Perry Riley tackled Steven Jackson for a loss.
Osi Umenyiora helped jump-start Atlanta's offense with a strip-sack of Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins in Redskins territory on Washington's opening drive. Atlanta converted Cousins' fumble into a touchdown a few plays later when Matt Ryan found Tony Gonzalez for his only touchdown pass of the day.
However, other than Umenyiora's play, the front four struggled to generate pressure on its own for the rest of the game. Stansly Maponga, Malliciah Goodman and Jonathan Massaquoi all received significant playing time at defensive end, and that trend will probably continue over the next couple of weeks.
Of those three, Massaquoi has probably done the most to make an impression on the coaches because his run defense has improved from where it was earlier in the season.
Jonathan Babineaux recovered two fumbles on the afternoon, and Corey Peters continued to work toward a potential contract extension.
Sean Weatherspoon had a nice hit on Kirk Cousins on a blitz early in the first quarter before he left the game in the third quarter with a knee injury.
Paul Worrilow led the group in tackles once again, and he may be Atlanta's best linebacker at the present moment. However, the most surprising contribution in Sunday's win may have come from forgotten linebacker Stephen Nicholas.
Nicholas' fourth-quarter strip of Redskins running back Alfred Morris in the red zone prevented Washington from going in for a go-ahead score at the end of a long drive and went a ways toward securing the win for Atlanta.
Atlanta's secondary gave up its share of big plays, but the unit started three rookies, so some breakdowns were to be expected. Like the rest of the defensive unit, the secondary's grade earns a significant boost because of the seven takeaways Atlanta's defensive group got from Washington.
Safety William Moore and cornerback Desmond Trufant both came away with timely interceptions, and Trufant's breakup on Washington's two-point-conversion attempt clinched Atlanta's win.
On the downside, Kirk Cousins threw for nearly 400 yards and completed two passes for over 50 yards on the day. Pierre Garcon (7 receptions, 129 yards, 1 TD) and Aldrick Robinson (4 receptions, 99 yards) both caused a lot of problems for the Falcons.
Falcons punter Matt Bosher averaged 46.8 yards on six punts on the day as he continued his strong campaign. Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant also helped Atlanta's cause by nailing both of his field-goal attempts, including a 51-yarder that helped cushion the Falcons' narrow lead in the fourth quarter.
Atlanta's kick coverage units did a great job of limiting Washington's return game, and they even picked up a turnover when Washington return man Santana Moss muffed a punt in the second quarter.
The only blemish for Atlanta's special teams group came late in the fourth quarter when the kick-return group almost allowed Washington to recover its onside-kick attempt.
Once again, Mike Smith's Falcons jumped out to an early lead and put a team on the ropes, and once again Atlanta's opponent quickly got itself back into the game.
At least they're consistent in that aspect. Sarcasm aside, give Smith credit for finding a way to motivate his 3-10 team in a game at home against an equally underwhelming 3-10 Washington team.
Also, kudos to Smith and his staff for being practical and giving some of their younger players like Harland Gunn an extended look. Smith and Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff need to see what they have in these young guys now, because they can't afford to overlook any deficiencies this offseason if they want this team to contend in 2014.
I really like Redskins coach Mike Shanahan's decision to go for two at the end of this game under the circumstances, and I'd like to think that Mike Smith would've made the same call given his decision to go for a touchdown from the Washington 1-yard line when his team was down by three in the third quarter.