Joe Gibbs has always relied on a dominant rushing attack in the month of December. It's one reason why his teams always finish strong--Gibbs entered Sunday's contest versus Atlanta with a 39-14 record all-time in December games.
Against the Falcons, Gibbs and associate head coach-offense Al Saunders established the running game early--and it helped the Redskins build a 14-0 first quarter lead. The Redskins could not hold on, though, as Atlanta won 24-14 at FedExField.
Ladell Betts turned in a career performance, rushing for 155 yards on 28 carries, an impressive 5.5 yards-per-carry average.
"I would trade in all those yards for a win," Betts said after the game. "I rushed for all of those yards, but it's all for not when we don't win."
As a team, the Redskins compiled 177 rushing yards against the Falcons' defense, which had entered the game ranked ninth against the run. In particular, running backs found success running behind offensive tackles Chris Samuels and Jon Jansen.
The Redskins' first four offensive plays were handoffs to Betts, who gained 25 yards to move the ball into Falcons' territory. Jason Campbell got in the act with a 13-yard scramble to the Falcons' 8-yard line.
On the next play, Betts followed blocks by Samuels, tight end Chris Cooley and fullback Mike Sellers to race into the end zone for a touchdown, giving the Redskins a 7-0 lead over the Falcons.
Later in the first quarter, Betts picked up 15 yards on a block behind Samuels. That run helped set up play-action, and Campbell completed a 42-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss down the right sideline.
The Redskins continued to pound Betts most of the game, but the offense could not sustain drives and a costly Campbell interception led to a Falcons touchdown.
With the Falcons leading 24-14 early in the fourth quarter, the Redskins' offense went into catch-up mode. The offensive approach shifted to the passing game.
"We were effective at running the ball when we did run the ball," Betts said. "Unfortunately, we got behind in the fourth quarter and had to go to the air, so we really couldn't stick with it."
Added right guard Randy Thomas: "Anybody who goes up 14-0 with time left in the first quarter is feeling pretty good about themselves. We thought we kind of had it, but it got away from us."
The last two games, the Redskins have put an emphasis on the ground game. The offense produced 143 rushing yards in a 17-13 victory over the Panthers, and 177 yards in the loss to Atlanta.
Gibbs said the offense would stick with its run-oriented game plan.
"We have [principles] that we believe in," Gibbs said. "When we stick with it, I think we can win football games. We started off the [Falcons game] doing some real good things. Game plan-wise, it was what we like to do. Somewhere in there, we quit making plays, and then we had a couple of bad ones. It's a tough time we're gong through."