The Atlanta Falcons got their 2016 season off to a promising start with a 23-17 win over the Washington Redskins in their preseason opener at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons built an early lead, going up 23-3 by the middle of the third quarter but the Redskins began to rally late with a pair of touchdowns before the Falcons managed to pull out the victory. The game featured a litany of penalties with 25 for 204 yards combined between the two teams.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan struggled in his two series of work, failing to complete any of his four pass attempts. He gave way to backup Matt Schaub near the end of the first quarter, who shined by completing 10 of 15 passes for 179 yards. Sean Renfree was next on the quarterback pecking order, completing five of nine passes for 101 yards. Matt Simms cleaned up and struggle, failing to complete a pass on three pass attempts.
On the ground the Falcons combined for 79 yards with rookie Brandon Wilds leading the team with 26 yards on 10 carries and the team’s lone offensive touchdown. Gus Johnson added 18 yards on nine carries, while Simms rushed for 17 yards on a pair of scrambles. Starter Devonta Freeman got limited work with five carries for nine yards.
Wide receiver Aldrick Robinson benefited from the strong play of Schaub, catching a pair of long passes for 68 and 47 yards. He finished the game with three catches for 118 yards. Nick Williams had three grabs as well for 28 yards. Eric Weems had another big play on a 48-yard pass from Renfree, his only catch of the evening. Among the starters, Mohamed Sanu had the best night with a pair of catches for 18 yards.
Kicker Matt Bryant connected on both of his field-goal attempts for 24 and 42 yards, respectively. Backup Nick Rose made a 36-yard kick in the third quarter, but missed a 39-yarder on his next attempt. Punter Matt Bosher had four punts for an average of 47 yards with one punt inside the 20-yard line.
Returner J.D. McKissic earned the team’s only other touchdown of the game, returning the opening kickoff in the second half 101 yards for a score. McKissic also had a single punt return for 14 yards, while Devin Fuller added 15 yards on three punt returns.
Offensively the Falcons starters got off to a sluggish start, suffering a pair of three-and-outs with Ryan and the other starters in the game to lead of the game. The gained just two yards of total offense on those two series. However with the insertion of Schaub into the game, things started to get moving and the Falcons were able to move the ball into the red zone on their next two drives and gained 223 total yards on their next three possessions. For the entire game the Falcons gained 359 total yards of offense, but managed to convert just two of 10 third-down attempts. They also only managed to convert one of three red-zone trips into a touchdown and had a turnover to start the fourth quarter.
Defensively the Falcons fared much better, with the Redskins only gaining 234 yards of offense the entire night. They also held Washington to just five third-down conversions on 15 attempts. The Redskins starters were able to gain 30 yards on seven plays on their opening series with starting quarterback Kirk Cousins on the field, who quickly gave way to Colt McCoy on their second possession.
Rookie linebacker Deion Jones tied with safeties Kemal Ishmael and Damian Parms for a team-leading five tackles on the night. Jones and Ishmael both added tackles for loss, while Jones broke up a pass and Parms forced a fumble. Other notable Falcons defenders included: linebacker De’Vondre Campbell (three tackles, one tackle for loss), defensive end Nordly Capi (one tackle, 0.5 sacks, two quarterback hits), cornerback C.J. Goodwin (theree tackles, one pass breakup), defensive tackle Cory Johnson (three tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss), linebacker Ivan McLennan (two tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss), linebacker Sean Weatherspoon (three tackles), linebacker Philip Wheeler (four tackles), defensive end Brandon Williams (three tackles, 0.5 sacks) and linebacker Paul Worrilow (one tackle for loss).
The sloppiness of the game started at the outset with the Redskins drawing a holding penalty on the opening kickoff, beginning the first series of the game from their 13-yard line. Defensive end Brooks Reed was able to create pressure, but not enough to prevent Cousins from flipping a pass to wide receiver Ryan Grant for an 11-yard gain. Worrilow however was able to burst through the line to get a three-yard stop on running back Matt Jones on the very next play. Two plays later, wide receiver Pierre Garcon converted on 3rd-and-4 with a five-yard gain in front of Worrilow and Ishmael. The Redskins however were pushed back on the very next play by a holding call on right tackle Morgan Moses, who grasped the face mask of defensive end Vic Beasley, wiping out a 12-yard run by Jones. Weatherspoon then gave Jones a good pop in the hole on a four-yard run on the next play. Two plays later on 3rd-and-11, Worrilow was able to push running back Chris Thompson out of bounds on a nine-yard gain to force a Redskins punt. The Falcons committed their first penalty of the evening with an illegal blocking call on wide receiver Eric Weems after Tress Way’s punt was downed at the three-yard line. That penalty pushed the Falcons back to start their opening series at their one-yard line.
Ryan’s first pass on a quick throw in the flat to Julio Jones skipped off the turf for an incompletion. Two plays later on 3rd-and-7, Ryan’s next pass was an overthrow to Jones along the sideline and the Falcons had a quick three-and-out. The string of penalties on special teams continued as Falcons linebacker LaRoy Reynolds was called for a face mask penalty, gifting the Redskins 15 yards and allowing their second series to start at the Falcons 41-yard line.
With McCoy in at quarterback, the Redskins’ first-down play was a run to Keith Marshall, stuffed for a loss of one yard by Ishmael. Two plays later though, McCoy found an open Rashad Ross 19 yards downfield on 3rd-and-11 despite get slammed by Adrian Clayborn. McCoy missed on his next two passes including what should have been a touchdown to tight end Vernon Davis, however the veteran pass-catcher dropped the throw in the end zone after getting behind Falcons cornerback Akeem King. McCoy’s second incompletion on third down was short-hopped to Thompson thanks to some pressure from Beasley. The Redskins settled for a 41-yard field goal from kicker Dustin Hopkins, giving them a 3-0 lead with little more than six minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Ryan missed a second-down throw to Mohamed Sanu, although the Falcons receiver looked to be interfered with by Quinton Dunbar, however the officials did not throw a flag. Ryan then tried to thread the needle to Robinson on third down, who got leveled for another incompletion. After a 56-yard Bosher punt, the Redskins began their next series at their 28-yard line.
Weatherspoon provided another big hit on second down, getting the stop on Thompson for no gain on the run to the right side. On the ensuing 3rd-and-5, King was able to make a nice tackle on a crossing pattern a yard shy of the sticks to force a three-and-out and a Redskins punt.
Schaub entered the game under center for the Falcons and the team proceeded to run the ball on their first three plays to Freeman, who gained a combined 10 yards, including an eight-yard conversion on 2nd-and-5. Schaub connected on his first two passes, both to Sanu for a combined 18 yards as the first quarter came to a close.
Schaub’s next pass was a 47-yard bomb to Robinson on a deep post, hitting the speedy receiver in stride and putting the ball at the Redskins 12-yard line. However Greg Toler broke up Schaub’s next pass attempt to Sanu in the end zone before Tevin Coleman broke a tackle and scurried 10 yards off the left side to get the ball down to the two-yard line. However a false start penalty against right tackle Ryan Schraeder, his second of the game, backed up the Falcons five yards. Schaub then overthrew Freeman on a wheel route in the end zone and a draw play to the running back was stuffed for a four-yard loss. That put the Falcons at 3rd-and-goal from the 11-yard line and Schaub threw it away. However an offsides penalty against Redskins pass-rusher Preston Smith gave the Falcons five yards and another chance at scoring. Schaub was able to extend the play outside the pocket but Freeman dropped a wide-open touchdown, forcing the Falcons to settle for a field goal. Bryant made the 24-yard kick to tie the game at 3-3 with 12:44 left in the second quarter after a 12-play, 76-yard scoring drive by the Falcons.
Deion Jones sniffed out a second-down screen to Marshall, forcing a 3rd-and-5, but McCoy was able to scramble eight yards to convert. Campbell then made a trio of stops on the next three plays, forcing the Redskins to punt once more. That included another special teams penalty, this time an illegal formation flag on the Redskins.
Schaub and the Falcons took over at their 28-yard line but quickly flipped field position thanks to a rollout by the quarterback leading to a jump ball throw to Robinson. The receiver snagged the ball for a 68-yard gain, getting the ball down to the four-yard line. Wilds needed just two tries to hammer it in, scoring the game’s first touchdown on a one-yard run up the middle with 7:37 left in the first half.
The Redskins failed to answer on their next drive with a quick three-and-out thanks to cornerback Brian Poole making a pair of stops on second and third down to force a punt.
Wilds put in work on the ensuing Falcons possession, gaining a combined 22 yards on his first two carries. Three plays later, Wilds’ next run saw him get upended by Redskins rookie Su’a Cravens for a two-yard loss. Two plays later after the two-minute warning, Schaub found an open tight end Josh Perkins for an 11-yard gain on 3rd-and-12, setting up a 4th-and-1. A play-action pass was converted by fullback Will Ratelle for a nine-yard gain, putting the ball at midfield. Schaub connected a pair of short passes, which then brought up another 3rd-and-long at the Redskins 41-yard line with 18 seconds left. He hit a well-covered Justin Hardy in traffic for a 17-yard gain and the Falcons used a timeout to stop the clock with 10 seconds left in the first half. Unable to find an open receiver, Schaub threw it away to preserve the field-goal opportunity for the Falcons. Bryant took advantage, nailing the 42-yard kick with the first-half clock hitting zero. That gave the Falcons a 13-3 lead entering halftime.
The Falcons came out of halftime with a 20-3 lead thanks to a 101-yard kickoff return by McKissic to start the half.
The Redskins put rookie passer Nate Sudfeld into the game on the ensuing series, who connected on his first pass to Rashad Ross, but was stripped by Parms in the flat. However the Redskins were successfully able to recover. Two plays later, Sudfield converted his first third-down throw to T.J. Thorpe on a four-yard gain. Sudfield’s next pass was a deep shot to Ross, who got past Goodwin, but the ball bounced off the receivers’ fingertips for an incompletion. Two plays later the Redskins were punting it back to the Falcons.
Atlanta’s first offensive possession of the second half featured Renfree in at quarterback. His first play was a pitch to Wilds that was dropped for a five-yard loss by Cravens. But Renfree’s first pass was a 48-yard drop in the bucket on a deep throw to Weems to put the ball into Redskins territory. Renfree then hit another big play on a throwback to Williams for 25 yards that put the ball into the red zone. His next pass was a quick screen to Williams, but was quickly bottled up for a two-yard loss by cornerback Dashaun Phillips. Renfree’s ensuing third-down pass was tipped at the line and the Falcons settled for another field-goal, with rookie Nick Rose hitting from 36 yards. That pushed the Falcons’ lead to three scores, now up 23-3.
Sudfeld hit a big pass on first down, finding his open tight end Logan Paulsen in between the zone for a 28-yard gain. Two plays later, Jones was able to fill against the run on a two-yard loss but the positive defensive play was wiped out by a face mask penalty on McLennan. The Redskins ran the ball on their next four plays, which included gains of 18 and 11 yards by Robert Kelley to put the ball down at the one-yard line. Kelley was able to finish off the drive with a run up the middle, giving the Redskins their first touchdown of the evening with 4:53 left in the third quarter, and cutting the Falcon lead to 23-10.
Renfree connected with Devin Fuller over the middle on a 17-yard gain to start the next Falcons possession. That was followed by an eight-yard run by Wilds on a sweep left, but that play was negated by a holding call on offensive lineman Ben Garland. Two plays later, Renfree connected with wideout Jordan Leslie, who made a leaping grab for 13 yards. 15 more yards were tacked on thanks to a roughing the passer penalty on Redskins defensive tackle Stephen Paea, putting the ball in Redskins territory. On a rollout, Renfree’s next pass was overthrown to an open tight end Austin Hooper. Two plays later on third down, Renfree took another deep shot to Leslie, but it was broken up and the Falcons were forced to punt the ball back to the Redskins with 2:25 left in the third quarter.
The Redskins were backed up to their 10-yard line thanks to a holding call on Dashaun Phillips on the punt return. Sudfeld hit his first pass to Ross for 22 yards, thanks to the Falcons defense biting on the play-action fake. But he was sacked on the very next play when Cory Johnson burst up the middle for a sack and a loss of 12 yards. The Redskins were unable to climb out of the hole and punted the ball back to the Falcons with the third quarter nearly at a close.
However on the second play of the ensuing Falcons possession and the first play of the fourth quarter, Wilds put the ball on a turf on a two-yard run with linebacker Terence Garvin earning the strip. Safety Geno Matias-Smith fell on the loose ball and the Redskins took over at the Falcons 34-yard line.
The Redskins proceeded to pound the ball on the ensuing possession with Mack Brown carrying the rock on the first four plays for a combined 17 yards to get the ball into the red zone. A 3rd-and-3 was stopped thanks to pressure by Capi forcing an overthrow by Sudfield to tight end Marcel Jensen. But the Redskins converted on 4th-and-3 with Sudfeld connected with Ross on the back-shoulder throw for a four-yard gain. Three plays later, Jensen was able to slip behind the Falcons defense on a rollout by Sudfield, who connected on a six-yard scoring play. The Redskins were able to score another touchdown on a nine-play, 34-yard drive, cutting the Falcon lead to 23-17 with 9:20 left in the game.
The Falcons inserted Matt Simms into the game at quarterback, whose first pass was an errant one to Corey Washington on a rollout. But Simms then scrambled for 18 yards on the next play, but much of that gain was wiped out by a holding call on offensive tackle Laurence Gibson on the next play. Two plays later, Simms next pass was batted down by defensive end Anthony Lanier. On the ensuing 3rd-and-16, McKissic dropped a screen pass and the Falcons were forced to punt. The bevy of special teams penalties continued on Bosher’s 53-yard punt with wide receiver Dez Stewart drawing an illegal block penalty.
But the Falcons defense stood strong and forced a three-and-out, thanks to Capi and Brandon Williams combining to split a sack on Sudfeld on 3rd-and-2. McKissic was able to return Way’s 64-yard punt for 14 yards to start the Falcons at their 41-yard line with 4:47 left on the game clock.
The Falcons attempted to run out the clock with Gus Johnson gaining 13 yards on his first three carries to start the ensuing possession. Wilds then gained three yards on his next two plays, but a egregious face mask penalty on Lanier gave the Falcons 15 additional yards on the latter carry. After a delay of game penalty with 3:10 left on the game clock, Johnson ran the clock down to the two-minute warning with a pair of runs for a combined four yards. That brought about a 3rd-and-11, but Johnson was stuffed on a sweep right for a loss of two yards. The Falcons trotted Rose out on the field to kick a 45-yard field goal to attempt to push their lead to two scores with 1:53 left in the game. Rose pushed the kick wide left, but got another shot thanks to a running into the kicker penalty on cornerback Mariel Cooper. However despite getting spotted five additional yards, Rose pushed his next 39-yard attempt wide left again and the Redskins took over with 1:30 left in the game at their 29-yard line.
Sudfeld connected with Stewart in the flat on a three-yard play, but a holding penalty brought it back. Sudfeld completed a check down and then a screen to Mack Brown to force a 3rd-and-12 with 41 seconds left in the game. After a three-yard scramble by the young quarterback, bringing about a 4th-and-9, Sudfeld was sacked by McLennan after Brandon Williams created initial pressure, resulting in a turnover on downs with 26 seconds left in the game.
Simms got the team in victory formation for a final play and with a kneel down the Falcons came away with a win.
This marks the third consecutive summer in which the Falcons have won their preseason home opener. The team will travel to Cleveland to face the Browns next week. The Falcons haven’t started an exhibition schedule with two consecutive wins since 2005.