Kendall Fuller interception seals home victory for Commanders
Clash of re-emerging teams on a rainy day in Washington
The Commanders came into this contest on a two-game winning streak, vying for a position in a division with three other teams, (the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants) all holding winning records. The Falcons, on the other hand, were playing to keep their division title and playoff hopes alive. With a win here and a loss by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Falcons would take over the lead of the NFC South.
This year in particular, the Falcons have shown that they are truly starting to heal from their loss in Super Bowl 51, a loss that, in many fans’ opinions, set them back greatly. The Falcons are taking strides towards building an identity as a team, kick-starting a winning culture. Head coach Arthur Smith has kept the Falcons in contention for a division title this year. This team, much like the Commanders they faced, was playing a tough, run-heavy offense and physical game on both sides of the ball, running down the clock and winning a lot of close games. This matchup is of two teams starting an upswing, coming back into relevance after a few years of unsatisfactory results at best.
It was about 57 degrees and rainy in Landover for this game, with many fans braving the wet to sit and watch the game.
Not many players were inactive for this game. On the Falcons’ injury report, offensive lineman Chuma Edoga and defensive lineman Jalen Dalton were both out. The Commanders were missing cornerback Benjamin St-Juste, wide receiver Dax Milne, and defensive end Chase Young to injuries. Young was inactive again on Dec. 4, after being expected to return for the Commanders’ contest with the Giants.
The combination of the weather and the offensive play in this game did not make for the most attractive football game to watch. The Commanders won the coin toss and elected to defer, and the Falcons received to start the game. Their drive stalled around the Washington 30-yard line, and kicker Younghoe Koo booted a field goal to put the Falcons up 3-0 with 8:07 left in the first quarter.
The Commanders received and drove down the field, with quarterback Taylor Heinicke making deep passes to wide receivers Terry McLaurin and Dyami Brown. Their drive ended when Heinicke connected with running back Brian Robinson Jr. for a 14-yard touchdown. After this play, the Commanders led 7-3 with 3:46 left in the first quarter. Two stalled drives from Atlanta and Washington respectively led to the end of the first quarter.
A punt from Commanders punter Tress Way kicked off the second quarter. Atlanta drove down the field, with a pass from quarterback Marcus Mariota to wide receiver Drake London for 22 yards, setting them up deep in Washington territory. Mariota connected with tight end MyCole Pruitt a couple of plays later in the end zone for a Falcons touchdown. With the extra point by Koo good, the Falcons were up on the Commanders by a score of 10-7, with 8:26 left in the half. Washington received and drove down the field, before kicker Joey Slye booted a 30-yard field goal to tie the game with 1:50 left in the half.
The Falcons received and ran a hurried offense, before failing to convert a fourth-and-1 on their own 47, to turn the ball over to Washington with 29 seconds left in the half. With the Commanders offense back on the field, Heinicke dropped back to pass and found wide receiver Jahan Dotson, threw the ball to him, but was intercepted by Atlanta linebacker Mykal Walker, who returned it 12 yards before going down. With 14 seconds left in the half, the Falcons ran a couple of plays before attempting a 58-yard field goal, which fell just short of the goal post as time in the half expired. At the half, the Falcons and the Commanders were tied.
During halftime and throughout the game, the Commanders played video packages honoring Sean Taylor, who died 15 years ago on Nov. 27. They unveiled a statue showcasing Taylor’s uniform in the stadium, which drew criticism from some Commanders fans.
The Commanders received the kickoff at the beginning of the third quarter. Their drive was almost stopped by an interception from Falcons cornerback AJ Terrell, but the call was overturned to be an incomplete pass intended for McLaurin. Way punted it off to Atlanta, who went 3-and-out before punting the ball back to Washington. What followed was an 11-play, 60-yard drive that ended in a touchdown, Heinicke connecting with tight end John Bates for 16 yards. With Slye missing the extra point, the Commanders were up 16-10 on the Falcons.
Atlanta received the kickoff and drove down the field for Koo to score on a 48-yard field goal. The Commanders still led the Falcons 16-13 with 1:17 left in the third quarter. The Commanders drove down and their drive ended the third quarter and stretched into the fourth.
This drive ended with a 45-yard field goal from Slye, which put the Commanders up 19-13 with about nine minutes left to play. The two drives that followed resulted in 3-and-outs, one from each team, leaving about five minutes on the clock. Atlanta received the punt from Washington and drove down the field. After a deep pass from Mariota to wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus got the team 45 yards and a couple of short plays, the Falcons were set up on the Commanders 25-yard line, and the two minute warning hit.
The Falcons drove down to the goal line, burning Washington’s two remaining timeouts. On second down and goal from the Commanders 4-yard line, Mariota threw a pass intended for running back Cordarelle Patterson which was intercepted by Washington cornerback Kendall Fuller in the end zone.
The Commanders netted eight yards in three plays once they got the ball, and the punt team came on. Way punted the ball away, but was hit by Falcons defensive end Adetokunbo Ogundeji, which triggered a five-yard Running-Into-the-Kicker penalty and netted Washington the first down. Heinicke came back on and kneeled to end the game.
The final score was 19-13, a win for Washington. In a post-game press conference, Commanders head coach Ron Rivera was asked about how proud he was of this team, especially after seeing them start the season with a 1-4 record, to win six of seven for a 7-5 record after this game. He said specifically that this team believes in what they can do now. Especially after all of the negativity they’ve had to trudge through this year, they’ve been able to “work hard and rally around each other.”
Rivera has cited the camaraderie this team has and their ability to gather around each other so many times this season, getting through all of the bad press and negative PR that surrounds the rest of the team to come together and win football games.
Both offenses were powered by their respective running games, Washington’s being led by Robinson’s 105 yards, totaling for 176 yards on the day. Atlanta’s leading rusher was running back Tyler Allgeier with 54 yards, followed closely by Patterson with 52 and Mariota with 49. Two interceptions and one sack by Commanders defensive end Montez Sweat were the only big plays on defense for the day; the defense focused on stopping the runners from getting yards. (More stats from the game can be found here.)
Up next, the Commanders travel to MetLife Stadium to take on the 7-4 Giants. Atlanta fell to the 4-7 Pittsburgh Steelers by a score of 19-16. The Commanders gained a little bit of ground in the race for the NFC East division crown, with the Giants falling to the Cowboys on Thanksgiving. The Commanders tied the Giants on Dec. 4, keeping them in fourth place in their division. They have a bye next week before returning home to face the Giants again on Dec. 18.