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Falcons-Redskins: What We Learned

The SportsXchange

ATLANTA -- There is plenty of drama surrounding coach Mike Shanahan and the Washington Redskins these days. It carried over into Sunday's road game at the Atlanta Falcons.

After backup quarterback Kirk Cousins led a scoring drive to pull his team within one point of tying Atlanta, Shanahan elected for a go-ahead two-point conversion instead of an extra point. Cousins' pass was deflected away, allowing the Falcons to escape with a 27-26 win Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

Shanahan announced in the middle of the week that he was benching starting quarterback Robert Griffin III and turning to Cousins for the final three games. With Griffin in street clothes, watching from the sidelines, Cousins played well and capped a fourth-quarter scoring drive with a touchdown pass to Santana Moss with 22 seconds to play that cut the Falcons lead to 27-26.

Atlanta defensive back Desmond Trufant deflected away Cousins' pass in the back of the end on the ensuing two-point conversion to secure the Falcons' win.

"I was telling myself that I had to make a big play after the one I gave up," said Trufant, who also had an interception in addition to game-saving pass breakup. "I didn't want to end the game on that note, so I just kept fighting and did what I had to do to help get the win."

Cousins finished 29 of 45 for 381 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.

"We just didn't do enough to win," Cousins said. "Two interceptions that were on me. A fumble that you don't want to have. The failed attempt at a two-point conversion, that was on me. Those are four plays right there that if they go different, it's probably a much better result."

Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan completed 29 of 38 passes for 210 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tony Gonzalez in the first quarter.

With only draft positioning at stake, the two disappointing teams committed a comedy of errors in the first half, at one point exchanging fumbles on three consecutive plays. There were five turnovers overall in the first half, including a bad interception by Ryan that led to Kai Forbath's second field goal and a 20-17 Redskins lead at intermission.

"There was a stretch there early in the first half, where we really had some issues with some explosive plays," Falcons coach Mike Smith said. "It will be a great learning experience for our young players that were out there playing, but we found a way to win the ball game."

The Redskins (3-11) fell behind quickly, 14-0, and were in danger of a complete meltdown, before Cousins mounted a comeback. Cousins completed 11 of 17 passes for 234 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in the first half. Griffin averaged 246 passing yards per game in his 13 starts.

Twice the Falcons (4-10) failed to score touchdowns on first-and-goal opportunities from inside the Washington 5-yard line. In the first half, they had to settle for a Matt Bryant field goal. Early in the third quarter, they came away with nothing, after running back Steven Jackson was stuffed on fourth-and-1 from 1-yard line.

Jackson got another chance two plays later, after Falcons safety William Moore picked off Cousins and returned it to the Washington 2-yard line. Jackson scored his second touchdown of the game on his next carry, putting the Falcons up 24-20. They took that lead into the fourth quarter.

Shanahan declined to comment on his job status.

"I'm not going to talk about that," Shanahan said. "I'll talk about football and about the Cowboys and the Giants."

What the Redskins said

"I thought it was a very well called game by (offensive coordinator) Kyle Shanahan and (coach) Mike Shanahan. I love the call to go for two at the end there. I felt like we had them on the ropes and I, we, just didn't enough to execute, but think it starts right here with me." -- Quarterback Kirk Cousins.

What the Falcons said

"I'm not going to comment on Coach (Mike) Shanahan's strategy. He chooses to do what he deems best for his football team. We were prepared (for the two-point conversion). We were able to match with the personnel. They ran a full wide receiver set. We were able to get our six defensive backs out on the field and we executed the pivotal play in the ballgame." -- Coach Mike Smith.

What we learned about the Redskins

1. Quarterback Kirk Cousins, without question, will have suitors in the offseason. Cousins, making his second career NFL start, was accurate throughout Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons, especially on deep throws. He threw a perfect strike to wide receiver Pierre Garcon for a 53-yard touchdown pass and also led receiver Aldrick Robinson perfectly on a 63-yard completion.

2. Running back Alfred Morris rushed for 98 yards, to go over the 1,000-mark for the season. Morris also lost two fumbles, though. Morris had not fumbled since Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles.

What we learned about the Falcons

1. A much-maligned defense has become more opportunistic as of late, forcing 11 turnovers in its last three games. Safety William Moore and cornerback Desmond Trufant intercepted Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins. Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux recovered two fumbles, and defensive end Malliciah Goodman and Moore also recovered fumbles.

2. Tight end Tony Gonzalez says he is retiring after the season, but the veteran can still play at a high level. He had six catches for 62 yards and put a nifty move on two Washington defensive backs before scoring a 13-yard touchdown. Gonzalez went over the 15,000-yard-mark for his career during the game. He is only the fifth player to reach that mark.
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