Falcons QB Matt Ryan makes it three straight games of throwing for more than 350 yards in the Week 9 win at Washington. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
That’s exactly what the Atlanta Falcons showed Sunday inside FedEx Field as they dominated a physical Washington Redskins defense, winning 38-14. Entering the game, Falcons coach Dan Quinn insisted the best was yet to come from his club despite an 0-2 road record. Well, Quinn was on point, thanks to an offensive attack that, for the most part, didn’t flinch.
Anytime a team goes into an opposing stadium and converts eight of its first eight third-down attempts, it speaks to how well prepared the team was to face adversity. Crowd noise wasn’t a factor, in part, because plenty of Falcons fans found their way into Redskins territory. But the biggest factor that made it a non-hostile environment was the Falcons’ ability to convert third downs, sustain long drives and finish with touchdowns rather than field goals.
With 36 seconds remaining in the first half, Matt Ryan found rookie wide receiver Calvin Ridley going down the middle on a third-and-9 from the Redskins’ 40-yard line. Ridley turned on the jets and left four defenders in the dust for his team-leading seventh touchdown reception of the season. All Redskins fans could do was shake their heads as the Falcons celebrated what was then a 21-7 edge.
Then when Ryan hit Julio Jones with a 35-yard touchdown off a screen late in the fourth quarter — Jones’ first touchdown reception of the season — the Falcons pretty much sent all the Redskins fans scurrying to the exits with long looks on their faces.
Playing with that type of confidence is what now has the Falcons riding a three-game winning streak heading into the second half of their schedule. At 4-4, they essentially can start over and erase the bad vibes from a 1-4 start. At the same time, they surely can’t afford to get too comfortable. They’re still trailing NFC South leader New Orleans and are not exactly projected to be one of the top wild-card teams as of right now. But the playoffs are well within reach.
The Falcons still strike fear in their opponents primarily because they boast so many different offensive weapons. One of them came to the forefront against the Redskins in Tevin Coleman, the explosive running back who can take it to the house in one touch. Coleman resuscitated what had been a slumbering running game with 88 rushing yards on 13 carries. That’s eight more yards than the Redskins’ second-ranked run defense surrendered per game entering Sunday’s contest. Tag-team partner Ito Smith added a 12-yard touchdown run where he leaped a defender and carried another into the end zone.
But it wasn’t just about Coleman running the ball. He continued this evolution in the passing game with two touchdown receptions, including taking a screen pass, following blocks from Mohamed Sanu, Austin Hooper and a couple of offensive linemen, and dashing to the end zone for a 39-yard score. Coleman caught five passes for 68 yards to complement Jones’ 121 yards on seven catches and Ridley’s 71 yards on six catches.
Oh, let’s not forget about the defense. The Falcons didn’t allow the ageless Adrian Peterson to really get going all day — no pun attended — and the Redskins staggered through injuries and ineffectiveness. Free safety Damontae Kazee let out a big sigh of relief for the Falcons when he intercepted a pass off a tip and chucked the ball into the stands toward Falcons fans.
Now for the Falcons, it’s about packing the same type of punch on the road next week against a Cleveland Browns team that has showed some fight despite enduring a coaching change and riding a rookie quarterback in Baker Mayfield.
The Falcons actually left for Washington a day early on Friday to make it an extended trip. Maybe that simple move made their bond a little bit stronger.