1) Turnover Tru: Years from now, Desmond Trufant may look back on Sunday’s win over Washington and think of it as one of those games when his career began to turn. Already in the midst of a solid rookie season at cornerback, Trufant stepped up Sunday and made a few game-changing plays, the kind of plays he was drafted in the first round this year to make. An early pass breakup on a deep pass was just the beginning of Trufant’s day. He snagged his second interception of the season in the fourth quarter, taking away a deep Kirk Cousins pass to set up the Falcons’ go-ahead score. As important as that takeaway was, it was another pass breakup that decided the game. After allowing a touchdown to Washington with 22 seconds remaining, the Redskins lined up for a two-point conversion and the win. Trufant, in coverage on Pierre Garcon, knocked away the pass in the corner of the end zone, ending the Redskins scoring threat and securing the Falcons’ fourth win. After giving up a big play earlier in the game, Trufant said he wanted to come back and make something positive happen: ”I was just telling myself I had to make some big plays after that one I gave up. I didn’t want to end the game on that note so I kept fighting. I tried to do whatever to get that win.”
2) Rookies Come Through: Injuries have changed the Falcons starting lineup and depth chart drastically over the season. A contributing factor to the Falcons’ record this season is the presence of so many rookies in critical roles on this year’s team. While their inexperience has at times been damaging to the team, their extended time on the field has provided them with invaluable experience moving forward. On Sunday, the Falcons had six rookies starting and a few more showed up in key situations. Ryan Schraeder got the start at right tackle and joined five rookies on defense, including Robert Alford and Zeke Motta. While their inexperience contributed to some of the big plays the defense allowed on Sunday, the rookies also helped the Falcons win. Malliciah Goodman recovered a fumble and added a QB pressure while Alford and Trufant combined for 16 tackles. The top four tacklers for the Falcons defense were all rookies with Alford and Paul Worrilow leading the way with nine.
3) Big Plays Continue: Sunday’s game against the Redskins featured a lot of unique plays and series of events and the Falcons defense allowed their share. Atlanta’s defense has been on the wrong end of a number of big plays this year and against Washington, it was more of the same. After jumping out to a 14-0, first-quarter lead, the Falcons let the Redskins back in the game with time dwindling in the first frame. A 37-yard rush by Alfred Morris set up a 23-yard touchdown pass and more big plays came in the second quarter. A 62-yard pass began Washington’s first drive of the quarter and later in the half, Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins connected with Pierre Garcon for a 53-yard touchdown. Garcon added a 27-yard catch later in the quarter. Those five plays accounted for 202 of Washington’s 476 offensive yards. Despite forcing and recovering five fumbles in addition to two interceptions, the Falcons gave up just the right number of big plays to Washington’s offense to allow them to stay in the game. Those five plays would be the longest of the day for Washington and the Falcons defense has learned this season that big plays can make games much closer than they should be. Sunday’s 27-26 nail-biter is proof of that.
4) Good and Bad Turnovers: Turnover Fest 2013 got off to a slow start, but after Osi Umenyiora started the party with a sack and forced fumble, it seemed like no one could hold onto the ball in Sunday’s game. The game ended with nine turnovers, two for Atlanta and seven for Washington. Six of the game’s total turnovers were fumbles, with Washington losing all five of theirs. The Falcons fumbled twice, but lost only one. Cousins tossed two interceptions for Washington, while Ryan threw just one, a pass that ended the Falcons’ final first-half possession and put the Redskins in position to connect on a final-second field goal in the first half. At one point in the second quarter, a fumble occurred on three straight plays and possession changed twice. Goodman recovered a Morris fumble to start the chain of turnovers. A sack of Ryan forced a fumble that Washington recovered, but on the following play, Robert McClain forced a fumble after a complete pass to Washington’s Santana Moss. Those three plays began with the Falcons on defense on their own 18-yard line and when the dust cleared, the Falcons had the ball at their own 5-yard line. McClain also recovered a special teams fumble that kicked off the second half and he said his experience as a gunner and a punt returner helped him see the play develop: “I saw Santana (Moss) fair catch it kind of late and I saw Drew (Davis) around the ball early. He was moving around a lot and as a returner, you want to catch it square and be still. When the ball hits the ground, you’ve got to run even faster because you never know what it’s going to do so I kept running. It bounced off his leg and I recovered it.”
5) Too Much Pressure: While the Falcons defense was producing turnovers at a rapid rate, Atlanta’s offense wasn’t able to maintain the sound protection they provided quarterback Matt Ryan on the first two possessions of the game. As the Redskins settled into their defensive game plan, the pressure on Ryan increased. The Redskins had three sacks on the day, but that only tells half the story. Ryan was hit five additional times and in total this season, the offensive line has allowed 37 sacks on the season.