Without tight end Jordan Reed, the Redskins on Sunday relied on Derek Carrier, who caught his first professional touchdown and helped start the team's game-tying drive in the fourth quarter.
Too overcome with the emotions of an overtime 25-19 loss to the Falcons in the Georgia Dome, in which a walk-off interception effectively cast a shadow on some of the game's earlier accomplishments, tight end Derek Carrier jogged off the field and into the Redskins locker room.
He later realized, in the heat of the game's disappointing finish, that he had left his milestone football – the one he spiked with authority after catching his first professional touchdown -- on the team's sideline.
"It's still out there somewhere," he said with a smile, which indicated that although the loss was disheartening, it didn't diminish what he and the Redskins offense were able to do without starting tight end Jordan Reed in Sunday's lineup.
Knowing he'd have an expanded role against Atlanta, Carrier took important steps in showing his productivity as a target for quarterback Kirk Cousins down field, and not just as an extra body to block at the end of the offensive line.
"Through every game there are plays you want to get back and things you think you can do better, and that's just where I'm at right now, thinking about this loss and about what we can do to be better as a team," Carrier said. "But as far as my role out there, I thought I did alright."
Cousins targeted the 6-foot-4, 241 pounder three times and connected with him twice, matching his season-high in receptions, for 27 yards.
His first catch came with a little history on it, a seven-yard strike in the end zone for the first score of the day and his first score in the NFL. The pass, which thanks to some great protection against three pass rushers allowed Cousins to go through a few progressions, came on third-and-goal. Carrier, running a hook, noticed the extra time and peeled to his left into an open window.
"It was pretty cool," Carrier said. "I'm kind of someone who waits for things to settle down before reflecting in them, but as of right now it was a special moment."
His longest catch of the year, and by far the most crucial in pushing the Redskins into field goal range to tie the game, came in the waning 24 seconds of the fourth quarter, with the Redskins down by three points, starting at their own 20-yard line and needing a spark to find an opportunity for kicker Dustin Hopkins.
Carrier provided one, darting up and out to the right sideline where Cousins found him in open space and connected for a 20-yard gain that saw him run out of bounds. Cousins would find receivers Pierre Garçon and Jamison Crowder next to rack up another 26 yards, which allowed Hopkins to deliver an overtime-inducing 52-yard field goal.
"I think a thing that I myself personally and a lot of guys on this team pride ourselves on is being resilient and that's pretty much it," Carrier said. "Especially when we have to drive ourselves down there with 20 seconds left and kick a field to goal to send it to overtime. So I thought it was a pretty good moment."
Check out these top photos from the Washington Redskins' 2015 Week 5 matchup against the Atlanta Falcons Oct. 11, 2015, at the Georgia Dome.
"Luckily we got the ball and Kirk made a good decision to get it out to Derek and he made a big run to the 40," head coach Jay Gruden said. "We made a big play to Pierre, he got the ball on a choice route, and our kicker knocked in a big field goal. It was great."
With Anthony McCoy and offensive lineman Tom Compton occasionally filling in where needed at tight end, the loss of Jordan Reed was noticeable, but not exclamatory. Carrier, who admitted he felt even more comfortable with the system this week at practice, offered in place a better glimpse at what he could provide in the pass game.
Against an undefeated team, on the road in a sometimes hostile environment and with the game on the line, Carrier admired the final fourth-quarter drive even as the team's loss still stung.
"Obviously disappointed in the loss, but we're not hanging our heads at all," Carrier said. "We're looking forward to next week and there are a lot of things we can take away from this game. Like I said earlier, being resilient and coming back to tie the game up. Next time we just have to finish better."