Redskins.com's Brian Tinsman takes a closer look at Sunday afternoon's fight with the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Ga.
In April, this Week 15 matchup had the makings of an NFC Championship preview between two teams on the rise, carrying the weight of big expectations.
Although the circumstances were different, both teams weathered the uncertain storm of injuries this season, with the Redskins bringing along Robert Griffin III and the Falcons losing seven starters in Week 1 alone.
As it stands, this game means nothing in terms of the playoff picture, but everything in terms of the fate of each franchise. Many players' and coaches' jobs ride on a game like this, as it is a contest that both teams circle as winnable.
Throw the stats out in this one, as whoever wins this will likely do so in unconventional fashion.
This game boiled down to the final 20 seconds of the game, which is more than more games have offered in this disappointing season. The Redskins stole back the momentum, marching downfield with two and-a-half minutes to go. Kirk Cousins reared back and slung a pass to a wide open Santana Moss for what could have been the game-tying score.
For Moss, it was his eighth reception of the afternoon, a season-high. It was also his 48th touchdown as a member of the Washington Redskins, tying him for 10th all-time in franchise history with running back Stephen Davis.
The big reveal happened on the next play, when the Redskins elected to go for the two-point conversion and the win. Splitting out four wide, Cousins rolled to his right and saw each receiver covered. He slung the ball to the back of the end zone, but to no avail.
Had the Redskins had a healthy Darrel Young (removed with hamstring injury), you have to wonder if they would have thrown the ball in that situation, or at least been able to try a fake up the middle that would spring a receiver open. That was not the case, however, and the Redskins lost the game.
PLAY OF THE GAME
While there were a number of stellar offensive and defensive plays today, the one that got the Redskins jump-started on offense was the 37-yard rumble by Alfred Morris up the gut in the second quarter. The play reversed fields for the Redskins and set up the Fred Davis 23-yard touchdown reception on the very next play. It also legitimized a Redskins rushing attack that has gone limp in recent weeks, and set up the play action pass all day long.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
There were a number of players that earned praise in today's contest. But rather than focusing on players like Brian Orakpo and Pierre Garçon, for whom the expectations are always high, let's instead recognize the performance by receiver Aldrick Robinson.
The third-year receiver has had yet another up and down season, but finished the day with four receptions on seven targets, piling on a career-high 99 yards with a long of 62. His 62-yard reception was drawn to perfection, taking advantage of an aggressive run-stopping defense, calling play-action and hitting Robinson in stride. The 62 yards equaled the team's longest play for the year, matching Darrel Young's 62-yard touchdown run earlier this season.
He has been a forgotten man in Washington, but credit tight end Fred Davis for coming to work today. After being out of sync with Robert Griffin III in limited opportunities this season, Davis made an immediate impact, catching a 23-yard missile from Kirk Cousins in the end zone.
It was Freddy D's first touchdown catch since Week 12, 2011 at Seattle. Although he has weathered suspension, injury and deactivation since then, that is a span of 34 regular season games for the Redskins.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
--The Redskins came out hot. This has been a struggle for this team all season, but the Redskins played better on both sides of the ball. On offense, Kirk Cousins took his initial lumps, but settled in to pass for 248 first half yards, the most by a Redskins quarterback since Mark Rypien's 259 yards vs. Atlanta on Nov. 10, 1991.
--Give credit to Cousins, who came in and did his job leading this team to first half success. The Redskins have struggled with the big play since Week 14 last season, and Cousins completed two 50-plus yard passes for the first time since Thanksgiving, 2012. The Redskins have failed to build on one of the NFL's top rushing attacks this season, but Cousins ran the play action to perfection, picking up his biggest plays through the air off of the trademark Shanahan deception. Unfortunately, that doesn't tell the whole story.
--In the rushing game, Alfred Morris came out red hot, picking up his yards in chunks, including a 37-yard rumble to set up the first touchdown. He finished the first half with 75 yards. This is one of his best first half performances ever and constituted his most yards in a game since Week 11. Unfortunately, the second half was sobering.
--On defense, the Redskins finally got both Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo going at the same time. The pair teamed up for a sack a piece in the first half, the first time the two outside linebackers have recorded sacks in the same game since Week 4 at Oakland. Orakpo finished with another half sack, giving him seven in the last six games.
--Jose Gumbs was a late training camp addition to the team, assumed by many to be expanded roster fodder. The only thing was, Gumbs stuck around. He was named to the active roster and has started a game this season for Reed Doughty at strong safety. After shaking off injury that has hampered him in recent weeks, Gumbs made an impact today, picking off Matt Ryan with less than a minute remaining in the second quarter, setting the offense up for a field goal and the lead as time expired on the first half.
--Perry Riley Jr. has come on strong at the end of the year, sharing a team lead in tackles (93) heading into today's game and showing increased awareness at the line of scrimmage. Midway through the third quarter, the Falcons elected to go for it on 4th-and-goal from inside the 1, handing it off to Steven Jackson, who stutter-stepped behind the line. Riley Jr. sniffed out the play, being the first of several Redskins to drag him down for no gain. The Falcons ultimately scored after a turnover two plays later, but this is the type of veteran play the Redskins need at linebacker.
--By and large, the Redskins special teams played a much better game than this unit has experienced in a while. Yes, there was the flubbed punt return by Santana Moss, but the unit fixed the dam a week after allowing more than 300 yards return yards last week to the Chiefs.
WHAT WENT WRONG
--The Redskins lacked any semblance of ball security today, turning the ball over a season-high seven times. That broke down to two interceptions and a fumble for Cousins, two fumbles for Santana Moss and two fumbles for Alfred Morris. The Falcons scored 17 points off turnover, which was more than the difference in the game.
--The Redskins played perhaps the best first half of football, but left points on the field in the second-to-last drive before halftime. Although the team finished the drive with a field goal, it marked yet another touchdown-free trip to the red zone. On 2nd-and-10 at the 15-yard line, Kirk Cousins rolled out of the pocket to his left and had the edge on the Falcons defensive end in pursuit. Had he tucked and run, he would have picked up more than five yards and potentially the first down or touchdown. Instead, he pulled up and threw awkwardly across his body into traffic. Cousins is a pass-first quarterback, but his legs may have carried him to paydirt there.
--The Redskins put pressure on their defense early with a muffed punt by Santana Moss inside the Redskins 20-yard line. The play appeared to break down as Niles Paul was unable to direct his defender around Moss, who drifted into Paul, tripping, and letting the ball bounce off his facemask. The Falcons recovered and had good fortune on defense, holding the Falcons to a field goal. Obviously, this could have derailed the team's early momentum had it ended in touchdown.
--The Redskins again lost Darrel Young to a hamstring injury, causing some concern that his old injury was not fully healed or that he over-compensated and injured it again. Either way, it did make an immediate and lasting impact in the running game as Morris found fewer holes to attack in the second half.
--Kirk Cousins played extremely well under duress for most of the game, but caved to pressure and made an ill-fated pass out of his own end zone in the third quarter. Taking over on downs at their own 1-yard line after the Falcons failed to punch it in, Cousins dropped back in the end zone and slung a pass over the middle. It was intercepted by a Falcons defensive back, who returned it near the goal line. The Falcons punched it in behind Steven Jackson moments later.
--The Redskins have had trouble finding an adequate complement to Brandon Meriweather at safety this season. Bacarri Rambo has had his trouble with tackling and angles in his rookie season. Reed Doughty is an old pro, but has suffered a pair of concussions this season and lacks the speed the coaching staff desires at the position. This has forced hybrid corner E.J. Biggers into the lineup frequently, and his play dissolved at times today. He was flagged 15 yards for a senseless out of bounds hit in the first half. He was flagged for pass interference on a drive at the end of the third quarter. On that same drive, he had a free shot at quarterback Matt Ryan, but instead elected to jump harmlessly past him as Ryan tucked the ball. He had plays where he was extremely effective, but his aggression got the better of him and hurt the team at times.
--Brian Orakpo tallied 1.5 sacks today, giving him 10 on the season. This is his second double-digit sack season of his career and his first since his Pro Bowl rookie season in 2009.
--Wide receiver Pierre Garçon tallied his sixth 100-yard game as a member of the Redskins, giving him four this season, which is a career-high.
--Garçon also tallied his 95th reception of the season, moving him past teammate Santana Moss (93, 2010) for the second-most in franchise history. He remains on pace to catch franchise record holder Art Monk, who had 106 receptions in 1984.
Kirk Cousins praises Redskins defense:
"We didn't take advantage of the opportunities they gave us."
The Redskins close out the season with a pair of division games that should bring out the best that this team has to offer. The Redskins travel home to host the Dallas Cowboys this week, in a matchup that promises fireworks despite the teams' records. This is a rivalry game that has heated up in recent years, with the Redskins sweeping the series last year before losing round one this season in Dallas. Kirk Cousins will get the start in consecutive games for the first time in his career, and his first career start at FedExField.
As one might expect with a battle between 3-10 teams, this was a sloppy game for both teams. There were nine turnovers in the game, 16 penalties for 137 yards and a litany of mistakes on both teams.
Ultimately, the Redskins were in the drivers' seat after the first half and seemed to lose their edge in the second half. That was when the turnover parade began.
Ultimately, the Redskins were in position to force overtime and play an extra quarter of football seeking victory. This is a play that will be hemmed and hawed over the next week and beyond, but ultimately the Redskins had nothing to lose in going for the win.
The Redskins had the momentum at that point in the game and drew up a play they thought would work. Regardless of what the read was on that play, the Falcons defended it well and that's how it goes.
A loss today drops the team to 3-11, ensuring no better than a 5-11 finish. Perhaps the silver lining to come out of today was the valuable film as the Redskins prepare for the Cowboys and beyond.
In a season short on even silver linings, that might be a victory in itself.