Jump to content

Falcons find reasons to celebrate during, following road win over Redskins

Goober Pyle

Recommended Posts


LANDOVER, Md. — Damontae Kazee had a purpose when he threw the football into the stands. He had just picked off Alex Smith, thanks to being in the right position as Blidi Wreh-Wilson ripped the ball away from Vernon Davis on a pass down the right sideline. The ball popped into in the air with Kazee coming over the top of the play to record his fourth interception of the season. 

Immediately, Kazee started running away from the majority of his teammates and toward the sideline. He signaled for Sharrod Neasman to run with him. As Kazee neared the right corner of the FedEx Field South end zone, he suddenly launched the ball into the stands. From afar, it seemed like an impromptu celebration. 

Kazee actually had a semblance of a plan with it. 

“My nephew was in that corner so I was just trying to throw it to him,” Kazee said. 

Whether the football reached his nephew is unclear. But in that moment, with the Falcons holding a big lead on the road against the team leading the NFC East, it sure looked like these Falcons were in the back yard having fun again. 

It had been quite awhile since anyone saw this kind of performance from this team.

In six other outings, the Falcons were clawing to win games in the fourth quarter. Against Pittsburgh, Atlanta was blown out in the second half. In the 38-14 dismantling of Washington on Sunday, the Falcons were finally the aggressors, asserting their will on a Washington team that looked shell-shocked after going down 14-0 and later 21-7. 

While the Redskins don’t have an offensive juggernaut by any means, they previously did a good job running the ball with Adrian Peterson. But Peterson found very little running room as he was held to nine carries for 17 yards. As a team, the Redskins only mustered 79 rushing yards. A lot of that can be attributed to a Falcons defense that has grown together slowly after injuries dismantled the unit early in the year. 

The early rash of serious injuries to Deion Jones (foot), Keanu Neal (ACL) and Ricardo Allen (Achilles) did a number on the defense. It took awhile for the defense to communicate as well with the new parts on the field. Against Washington, a team that doesn’t take too many vertical chances, the defense resembled a cohesive, heady group that made key stops and could off the field on third down. Routes were covered downfield. The Falcons forced the Redskins’ offense into being a one-dimensional unit, with Smith throwing 46 passes. 

“With guys getting more experience, they’re going to play a lot better,” said defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, who had one of Atlanta’s three sacks. “You can see it. It’s exciting to see.”

Neasman is one of those players who has stepped up amidst the injuries. Brought back to the roster after Allen tore his Achilles, Neasman slowly has gotten a lot more snaps the past four games. He ended the game Sunday with five tackles and two pass deflections. 

“The older guys, the ones who have been out there, they embrace us 100 percent,” Neasman said. “That allows us to go out there and play at the level we’ve been playing at. I think a lot of the younger guys have had to step up. We know we have to step up. I think we’ve been playing pretty well.”

Said rookie linebacker Foye Oluokun, “It happens over time. You get a lot of guys playing on the same field for a while, you get used to everybody. It’s getting out there and getting experience together. It’s going to help.”

The Falcons were joyous after a game for maybe the first time all season. They showed some of that on the field in the fourth quarter. First, there was Kazee’s celebration. Later on, there was the team celebration in the North end zone after Julio Jones stamped an exclamation point on the game with a 35-yard touchdown. 

After Jones drove his legs through safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix so he could fall over the goal line, Jones’ teammates ran down the field to celebrate. Jones has been one of the most productive players all season long. After going for 86 yards against the Redskins, Jones now has 933 for the season. 

Yet that was his first touchdown of the season, and you bet his teammates were going to celebrate it. 

“You saw we had a party in the end zone,” Neasman said. “It was fun. He’s a phenomenal player.”


For quarterback Matt Ryan, who had yet another stellar outing with 350 yards, four touchdowns and one interception, it was good to see his top wideout finally reach the end zone. Jones may not care much about statistics, which is a rare trait for a star at this level, but that doesn’t mean his teammates don’t want to see him light up the stat sheet.

“Nobody deserves it more than him,” Ryan said. “Nobody works harder than he does. Nobody draws more double coverage than he does around the league. For him to get in and the way he did and the reaction you saw from everybody, that’s been a question we’ve had to answer for a long time. We’ve been scoring points. We’ve been doing a good job with that. He’s been super unselfish. I think we were all fired up for him to get in there.”

Jones scored the touchdown on a tunnel screen. After the snap, Jones faked like he was going to run down the field, stopped and turned toward Ryan. Cornerback Josh Norman slipped slightly and was out of position to defend the play. As he pursued Jones, left tackle Jake Matthews flattened Norman with a block that sprung Jones down the field. 

Jones said the team had been talking about running a screen like that in recent weeks. When it was brought up, Jones said he wanted to be the one taking the play. 

When it came to scoring on the play, Jones wasn’t going to let Clinton-Dix bring him down. 

“I just couldn’t let one man take me down in that situation,” Jones said. “We’ve been talking the last two or three weeks about screens. I said, ‘I need a screen.’ They gave me one (Sunday), and I made the most of it.”

Atlanta’s defense is improving. The offense continued to click, this time against a Washington defense that entered the day ranked second in rushing yards allowed per game (80.1). The Falcons racked up 154 rushing yards, with Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith averaging 6.4 yards per carry. 

That wasn’t expected heading into the game. 

The Falcons are now 4-4, which might have seemed unthinkable four weeks ago. A defense that didn’t appear fixable after a loss to Cincinnati has started to show strides. 

For Kazee, it was akin to growing pains. A lot of players, himself included, were thrust into bigger roles without expecting to see such playing time that early in the year. As a result, they made their share of mistakes. On Sunday, the Falcons, and a surprisingly large number of their fans who either made the trip or happen to live in the area, saw a glimpse of a unit that might be salvageable after all. 

“I think what it says is when we get into difficult moments, we know we’ve got to stay the course and lean on one another to get ready,” head coach Dan Quinn said. “It was an excellent performance in all three phases. When we go back, we will go and put the work in. … We have got plenty of work to do, and you can count on this group of guys to do it.”

Up next is Cleveland, a team that dropped to 2-6-1 for the season with a loss to Kansas City. A win over the Browns would move the Falcons above .500 for the first time this season. 

Just a little less than a month ago in Pittsburgh, it felt like the beginning of the end. In a sport where only one game takes place per week, the weekly conversation between games can drown out a team’s effort to improve behind the scenes. A lot of folks on the outside — fans and media alike — checked out on the Falcons, leaving them for dead. 

Perhaps that was a tad premature. But the win Sunday showed the Falcons were never intent on allowing the outside perception to define them. 

“We’re all we’ve got; we’re all we need,” Jones said.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...