Redemption is a wonderful thing. Sunday saw two Atlanta Falcons players turn around their game when everything was on the line to come to a happy ending as the team remained undefeated as they downed the Washington Redskins 25-19 in overtime.
The game was drawing a lot of national attention before kickoff. Part of it had to do with the fact Atlanta and first year coach Dan Quinn were one of five remaining undefeated teams in the league. Yet there was more to this game.
The Washington Redskins.
The Redskins are kind of like a hot mess. They drafted Robert Griffin III with the number two overall pick in 2012. That year the Heisman Trophy winner lived up to the hype winning awards for his play and leading the team to the playoffs. An injury in the playoffs against Seattle ended the team’s run and quite frankly Griffin was never the same.
Increasing rumors that the coaching staff had trouble working with him and the fact he was rushed back into action too early, whether it was his doing or the coaching staff’s led to a mediocre sophomore season and decreased productivity.
The drama forced the coach out and in came in first time NFL head coach Jay Gruden. 2014 was pretty much a repeat of 2013 except Gruden did the unthinkable and benched Griffin. Citing an injury for the benching the Redskins went the rest of the year with Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy under center. The season did not go well.
Prior to training camp the coach announced that Griffin was still the team’s quarterback. Then Griffin, who pulled up lame, was benched and Cousins was named the starter. By many the Washington Redskins were considered a dumpster fire.
The first two weeks of the season did not prove anyone wrong. There was talk about how dysfunctional the front office, team and the coaching staff was. There was more talk of where Griffin would be traded and what week Gruden would be fired.
Then everything started to gel. The Redskins saw themselves tied for the division lead heading into the game with Atlanta. Many pundits were favoring Washington Sunday. Many were screaming praise to the way Gruden had “fixed the team”. Even quarterback Kirk Cousins was all of a sudden the golden boy for his play and how he was perfect for Gruden’s offense. No longer was he the whipping boy of 2014 and the first two games of 2015.
Atlanta, as always was being overlooked despite a much improved defense, a running game that had been non-existent for a couple of years with a back that led the league in rushing touchdowns, and of course Matt Ryan and that freak of nature Julio Jones.
Matt Ryan had one of his roughest games in some time. The Falcons signal caller who had not had a turnover since week one threw two interceptions and fumbled the ball away on another possession. His fumble was the first fumble lost all season by Atlanta and in doing so was the last team to fumble this season.
Ryan seemed to struggle all day.
And then there was third year cornerback Robert Alford.
Since being drafted along with Desmond Trufant he’s been playing in the shadows of his fellow corner. There has even been rumor that Alford would be benched soon as the team not only drafted another corner but also picked one up in free agency.
Alford was also seeking redemption for his play this Sunday along with Ryan. A pass interference call in the fourth quarter led to a Redskin touchdown. And Atlanta found themselves behind by four with minutes to play.
Ryan once again adopted the persona of Matty Ice and led the Falcons down for what many thought would be a winning score.
Efficiently running the tam down the field even Roddy White got into the action making a big catch in the red zone.
As time was running out it looked like the Falcons pulled it off. Ryan hit Devonta Freeman over the middle from 13 yards out for what appeared to be the go-ahead score. Freeman caught the ball at the goal line and appeared to break the plane of the goal when the ball came out of his hands. A review of the play changed the call on the field to an incomplete pass. Two plays later Freeman ran the ball in from six yards out to make the score 19-16 with 24 seconds to play. Freeman had another great game running the ball. The second year back from Florida State rushing for 153 yards and the one score.
Kirk Coousins, however didn’t play like some backup. With 24 seconds remaining he drove the Redskins downfield for a game tying field goal as time expired.
The Redskins won the toss and they began to move the ball pretty effortlessly. The tension in the Georgia Dome was unbearable. Cousins got the Redskins to midfield and nothing looked like it was going to stop the Redskins on this day…
With the ball sitting on the 50 Cousins dropped back to pass again. He threw to WR Ryan Grant.
Grant was covered by Robert Alford. The unthinkable happened. Grant fell down. Alford intercepted the ball on the Atlanta 41, did a nice job of staying in bounds and returned the ball for the game winning touchdown.
A half hour earlier he was the goat for the pass interference penalty that set up a Washington first down. Now he was the toast of Atlanta.
“It was beautiful. I started celebrating right away,” said teammate and fellow cornerback Desmond Trufant. “I couldn’t be more proud of him. People are always doubting him, throwing fire at him and he shut everybody up. That’s what I’m most happy about, seeing my brother succeed.”
“I thought today was a really clear demonstration of our toughness, grit, and a mindset to finish today. I’m so glad that came through,” said Falcons head coach Dan Quinn. “I think we’ve developed a lot of grit and toughness with our group. They just won’t stop backing off and competing. It’s one of the things that I love most about our team.”
The Falcons have a short week as they play Thursday night at the Super Dome taking on divisional rival New Orleans. The game will kickoff at 8pm and be aired on CBS.
– Dave Weinthal
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