ATLANTA – The final play, one that turned a potentially resilient win into a crushing defeat, unfolded exactly how the Atlanta Falcons wanted.
One week after leading a game-winning drive to beat the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins threw an interception that turned into the game-winning touchdown as Robert Alford ran 59 yards for a touchdown.
It was a good news, bad news for Cousins and the offense. He led some clutch drives; he missed some key throws.
“I wasn’t good enough on some of those throws,” Cousins said. “There’s nowhere to point except at myself. I have to make those throws. I can make those throws, and I believe I will over the long haul. But today I left too many out there.”
Cousins and the Redskins’ offense finally displayed life in the fourth quarter by scoring 12 points -- three of which came on a drive with 24 seconds left in regulation. A second straight week of such late success would have delivered quite a bounce.
But the crushing play started with a good blitz from Atlanta, which left linebacker Nate Stupar with a free rush. Cousins knew where he had to throw the ball, but with Stupar free, it bought him little time. It provided Alford a chance to read the play well, starting slightly inside Grant and resulting with him sliding outside and then breaking as the ball was thrown wide. When Grant tried to break after turning around, he slipped.
Redskins coach Jay Gruden wasn’t going to overanalyze what happened.
“Ryan Grant just slipped and fell, and that was unfortunate,” he said. “There really isn’t anything to say on that.”
Grant did not talk to reporters, so it’s tough to know what happened from his perspective and what he was supposed to do on the route. He has declined multiple requests this season. Cousins didn’t mention anything about Grant slipping after the game.
“I felt the need to get rid of the ball and not take a sack and kill a drive,” Cousins said. “I threw it, and the guy made a play, and that was it. I tried to put it where I felt it needed to be put. Until I see the film, I can’t say much else without conviction.”
Redskins nose tackle Terrance Knighton said, "Kirk did a good job all game. I went to him after the game and said, 'Don't hang your head. Their defense made a play.'"
Cousins was, at best, inconsistent -- completing 21 of 32 passes for 219 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He was intercepted in the first half on a ball that bounced off Pierre Garcon’s hands. While Garcon said he should have caught the ball, the pass was also off-target. He misfired several other times to Garcon but connected with him for 19 yards on the game-tying drive.
But Cousins also drove the Redskins 80 yards in three plays after Atlanta took a 12-7 lead early in the fourth. Then he drove them 46 yards in four plays for the game-tying field goal. It was good enough to nearly win; it wasn’t good enough to win.
“He was up and down,” Gruden said. “He’s a young quarterback on the road, hostile environment. He competed, made some big-time throws, missed some throws he would normally make. We want to be in the game at the end, and he put us in the position to be there. Unfortunately, Ryan slipped, and they made a good play. We can get better from Kirk. We can demand better from Kirk, and he will get better.”
Much has been made over the past year about Cousins' ability to recover from bad plays. But Cousins showed Sunday that he was resilient, and he rallied in the fourth quarter. He must wait a week to display his resilience after this game. It helps when you know why something happened, and the fact that the interception can't be blamed all on him matters too. Just like the Giants loss, however, it was the misses on other throws aside from the interceptions that hurt. Coaches have mentioned Cousins' poise all season; he'll need to keep displaying that attribute.
"The bounce-back thing was never an issue for me," Cousins said. "If you go back through my story, my life is bouncing back and fighting adversity and being mentally and physically and emotionally tough. I've always been able to do that, and to play quarterback in this league you better be able to do that. That's something going forward I'll continue to have to do."