The Redskins came into the game needing a win to validate their season to this point. In a year of bad decisions, the Redskins were trying to implement an offense led by former retirement community member Sherm Lewis.
Lewis, formerly the offensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers during the Brett Favre Super Bowl days, had put the NFL in his rearview mirror. His hiring put head coach Jim Zorn in a precarious position. The offensive play calls were out of his hands.
But in what became known as the "Return of Over-Rated King," ex-Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall put on a show.
Not with his corner skills. None of us expected that. But with his mouth. We all expected that.
It all began last week when preparing for the game. Hall, never one short of words, took a jab at Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
"I didn't trust Dimitroff at all," Hall said Thursday, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution . "He lied to me several times. He promised me he was going to get something done [on a contract] and he's behind my back trying to shop me at the draft."
And shop Hall he did. That will go down as one of the best deals made in Falcons history. The Raiders received Hall in return for a second-round pick the Falcons later used to trade up and draft left tackle Sam Baker from USC.
In the second quarter, Washington safety LaRon Landry hit Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan late out of bounds and drew a penalty flag. Hall took the opportunity to run that notoriously over-hyped mouth.
Once Ryan got up from the turf, he and Landry shared a quick moment where Ryan patted the safety on the back as if to say, "No hard feelings." Ryan and the former LSU stud walked back onto the field, unaware that behind them, the 200-pound (soaking wet) Hall had stirred the proverbial pot against the Falcons.
One of the first to greet Hall was second-year standout linebacker Curtis Lofton. Behind Lofton, coach Mike Smith stood by. After several pushes, Hall ended up face-to-face with the Falcons coach and the two exchanged words. Hall went as far as to accuse the coach of taking a shot at him.
Hall rambled on after the game about Smith “talking [stuff] to me, saying he’ll kick my [rear] and all this other [stuff]...[If] Mike Smith wants to see me, he can find me.”
Now DeAngelo, you're in pads and a helmet and Smith is 50 years old and unprotected. Did he really threaten your health? You say you still live in Atlanta and would love to beat up on the much older man. Did the pill delivered by the Falcons taste that bitter?
Are you still mad Michael Jenkins abused you in a Raiders uniform or are you just coming to realize any team that you sign with quickly becomes a joke?
Regardless, the Falcons players got a good laugh out of the ordeal.
Center Todd McClure joked about it later. “When Smitty pokes that lip out, you know he’s pretty heated.”
“He got me juiced,” Curtis Lofton said.
“I know he’s a head coach now,” said Mike Peterson, who played for Smith in Jacksonville. “But he was a [defensive] coordinator and a linebackers coach before that. It’s still in him — that fire, that emotion. I love that man.”
If you ask me, DeAngelo, the Falcons should play whatever team will have you each season to remind the team how good they have it since you left and Smith took over.
The rest of the game was pretty much expected. The Falcons dominated all but the third quarter. After falling behind 24-3 at halftime, the Redskins mounted a comeback that proved to be too little, too late.
In the fourth quarter the Falcons put the game away. Three plays after the Redskins closed to within seven points, Michael Turner broke loose for a 58-yard touchdown.
After driving back down the field, the Redskins went for it on fourth-and-1 on the Falcons 44-yard line. It was foiled by linebackers Curtis Lofton and Mike Peterson. Two-yard loss, game over.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
While taking notes for the game, I looked down at my pad and, to my surprise, defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux had already amassed six tackles and two sacks. He played his best game this season and his first-half performance helped hold the Redskins to three points.
WELCOME ABOARD TYE HILL
With the secondary devastated by injuries and free agency, Week 1 signing Tye Hill played in his second game of the season. He's played very well so far, much better than expected after taking seven weeks to learn the playbook. His interception return for a touchdown supplied a knock-out blow to an offense that struggled to move the ball much of the game.
IT'S GOOD TO HAVE OVIE BACK
When the injury report a few weeks ago listed Ovie Mughelli, my heart sank. I was a huge fan of his signing when Bobby Petrino was holding the reigns. I didn't believe Petrino had any idea what to do with such a talent, but offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey has figured it out. When he's in the lineup, as shown against the 49ers a few games back, the Falcons can run on any defense in the NFL.
MATTY ARE YOU OK, ARE YOU OK MATTY?
Of ever-increasing concern this season, quarterback Matt Ryan has suffered a bit of a slump in 2009. His passes are fine on short and intermediate routes, but anything downfield is a crap shoot. His decision-making isn't as sharp as it has been in the past and he's feeling the pressure around him.
One of the compliments he received repeatedly last season was his poise in the pocket. This season, he tends to check down the ball much quicker and runs far less of his specialty, the no-huddle offense.
His protection needs to improve, but so do his reads. On several plays White was one-on-one downfield with 10 yards on his man. Ryan never looked his direction. It's concerning that the downfield pass isn't a top priority. It would really set things off for Michael Turner and the Falcons running game.
THE BURNER IS BACK
After a slow start to the 2009 season, Michael Turner is back, ladies and gentlemen! In each of the past two games, he's rushed for over 150 yards. His average per carry is back up over four and he's on pace to score the 17 touchdowns he produced last season.
HOUSTON TURNED HIS HEAD, AND HOPEFULLY A CORNER
After three seasons with the Falcons, cornerback Chris Houston has been one of the more frustrating players on the defense. He's a great cover guy, don't get me wrong. He sticks to his receiver well. The problem has always been his inability to turn his head and go for the ball.
Many times we have seen Houston's man make a spectacular grab over his shoulder while the cornerback is staring into the crowd. On Sunday, he turned his head and broke up a pass that would have allowed Washington back into the game. I believe I can speak for all the fan base when I say, "We are proud of you Chris!"
GONZO, GOING, GONZO
We all knew Tony Gonzalez was a future Hall-of-Famer when he joined the Falcons' ranks, but his contribution to the third-down passing game has become downright impressive.
The Falcons once utilized Michael Jenkins more in these situations, but he appears to be in a slump of his own. It's a good feeling to know Gonzo will be there to move those chains every week.
YOU GOT KNOCKED OUT
Early in the game, Redskins running back Clinton Portis took a handoff and collided with both nickel-cornerback Chevis Jackson and safety Thomas DeCoud. After the two got up, Portis was still out. Luckily he was okay, but he left the game with a concussion.
Michael Vick going to prison may have been the greatest thing ever to happen to the Falcons franchise. The addition of Dimitroff and Smith and the release of Hall and Brooking have paid dividends.
The Falcons put up 30-plus points on a Redskins team that hasn't allowed that total in over two seasons. Not bad for a team playing at half its potential on offense.
Carolina is next. My pregame report should be out by Thursday.