Commanders vs. Falcons score, takeaways: Streaking Washington holds off Atlanta for sixth win in seven games

The Washington Commanders' hot streak continues another week as their 19-13 home win against the Atlanta Falcons marks their sixth win in seven games, running their record to 7-5 and putting them right on the doorstep of an NFC wild card spot. Outside of a bad interception on a forced throw into double coverage at the end of the first half, quarterback Taylor Heinicke put together a solid outing on Sunday. He tied his season-high with two touchdown passes despite throwing for a season-low 138 yards on 14 of 23 passing. The Commanders have now won five of Heinicke's six starts this season since he took over for an injured Carson Wentz. Rookie Brian Robinson also shined with his first 100-yard rushing game, racking up 105 on the ground on 18 carries. He also caught Heinicke's first touchdown, a 14-yard checkdown that he took the distance thanks to a couple broken tackles through the Falcons' secondary. 

The Falcons' loss drops their record to 5-7 as they lose critical ground in both the NFC South division race as well as the conference wild card competition. They continued to find success on the ground, rushing for 167 yards on 29 carries, 5.8 yards per rush. However, quarterback Marcus Mariota threw for under 200 yards, a commonality in six of their seven losses this season. The former second overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft threw for 174 yards and a 10-yard touchdown to tight end MyCole Pruitt on 15 of 25 passing. 

Both teams opened the game with some variation of a touchdown, a field goal, and a punt on their first three possessions while entering the half tied at 10. The difference in the second half was Heinicke's ability to find the end zone, tossing a 16-yard touchdown to tight end John Bates late in the third quarter. Mariota had an opportunity to give the Falcons the lead, trailing 19-13 with 1:03 remaining thanks to Commanders kicker Joey Slye missing the extra point on Heinicke's final passing touchdown. 

Atlanta drove all the way down to the Commanders' 4, and on second and goal, the Falcons' worst nightmare occurred. Mariota dropped back to pass, but his throw was tipped by Washington defensive tackle Daron Payne, allowing cornerback Kendall Fuller to make a diving interception in the end zone. The Falcons defense came up clutch, forcing a critical three-and-out and using all three timeouts to get the football back with 44 seconds to go. However, Atlanta was called for running into the punter, which gave the Commanders the opportunity to maintain possession and kneel the clock out. 

Why the Commanders won

The Washington defense was the definition of bend, but don't break Sunday. The unit allowed 332 total yards to the Falcons, Atlanta's fifth-highest total of the season, but only gave up one touchdown and intercepted Mariota 4 yards away from losing the lead. The Commanders have seven consecutive games with a takeaway, their longest such streak since an eight-game streak that stretched across the 2020 and 2021 seasons. 

With the win today, Washington improves to 7-1 in 2022 when recording a takeaway. The 13 takeaways since Week 6 stand as the most in the NFL, and along with the stiff defensive performance, Heinicke made just enough plays while Robinson's career day allowed Washington to win the time of possession battle by about seven minutes. The formula of a strong defense mixed with a ball-control offense is exactly what Commanders head coach Ron Rivera, a former Chicago Bears linebacker in their 1980s heyday, envisioned. His plan is coming to fruition in the nation's capital. 

Why the Falcons lost

The Falcons outgained the Commanders by 18 yards, but the difference in the game came down to red zone execution. Washington threw two touchdowns in three red zone trips while Atlanta threw a touchdown and the game-sealing interception in its two red zone trips. Most NFL games come down to execution near the goal line, and the Falcons simply couldn't come through with a touchdown down six with just over a minute left in the game. Atlanta had its opportunity, it just couldn't seize the moment. 

Turning point

The turning point couldn't be anything else besides Commanders cornerback Kendall Fuller's game-winning interception at the goal line with just over a minute left in the game. Had Fuller dropped this ball, there's a strong chance this game has a different outcome. After no picks in the first 10 weeks of the season, Fuller now has two big ones in consecutive weeks: a pick-six of Davis Mills in a win against the Houston Texans in Week 11 and now the game-winner in Week 12. 

Play of the game 

The play of the game was the best show of force at FedEx Field on Sunday, a powerful touchdown catch-and-run by rookie running back Brian Robinson. The third-round pick caught a swing pass and 14 yards later he was in the end zone after bowling over two Falcons defenders. It initially looked like his only options were to run out of bounds or go down about 4 yards short of the goal line, but Robinson chose Option C: go through the defense and get into the end zone. 

What's next

The Falcons return home in Week 13 to host rookie Kenny Pickett and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Commanders hit the road next week for an NFC East showdown with the 7-4 New York Giants that may double as an NFC wild card elimination game. 

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The Commanders just came away with a humongous interception of Marcus Mariota on second and goal fro the four with 1:03 left in the game. Commanders defensive tackle Daron Payne tipped the pass, allowing cornerback Kendall Fuller to make a diving interception in the end zone. The Falcons forced a critical three-and-out using all three timeouts to get the football back. However, Atlanta was called for running into the punter, which allowed the Commanders to maintain possession and kneel the clock out. 19-13 Commanders win, and they have now won six of their last seven games. At 7-5, they're in the thick of the NFC Wild Card hunt. The loss drops the Falcons to 5-7, putting them in a difficult spot. 

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A huge three-and-out forced by Atlanta's defense since allowing Washington to go up two possessions probably would've been the nail in the coffin with the way their offense is functioning today. 19-13 Commanders with 5:03 left to play. Falcons will start their drive on their own 16. 

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Montez Sweat's second down sack of Marcus Mariota threw the Falcons off schedule as Atlanta goes three-and-out. Washington takes over on their own 40 after the Falcons punt still up six, 19-13, with 7:08 left to play. 

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An offensive pass interference call on Washington wideout Curtis Samuel derailed what appeared to be a promising Commanders drive, so Washington ends up with three. 19-13 Commanders after Joey Slye connects on the 45-yard field goal. 

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The Falcons counter Washington's TD with a 48-yard field goal from Younghoe Koo, 16-13 Commanders with 1:17 left in the third quarter. Koo is 2/3 on the day with makes of 47 and 48 yards as well as a miss from 58 yards at the first half buzzer. 

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What was initially a strip-sack by Commanders defensive lineman Jonathan Allen is ruled an incomplete pass by Marcus Mariota after replay review shows his arm was going forward. Atlanta keeps possession of the ball down 16-10 near the end of the third quarter. 

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Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke gets the Falcons defense to bite on play-action and he hits tight end John Bates for 16-yard scoring strike, his second touchdown pass of the day. However, kicker Joey Slye missed the PAT, so the score is 16-10 Commanders with 4:03 left in the third quarter. 

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Commanders QB Taylor Heinicke has what appeared to be his second interception of the game wiped away on a replay review after the call on the field of interception on a play that Falcons cornerback A.J. Terrell ripped the ball away. It was a huge turn of fortune as Washington punter Tress Way's punt was downed at the Flacons five, which will give the Commanders great field position on their next drive since their defense just forced a three-and-out.

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On the very first play after the Falcons were stuffed on fourth down, Atlanta intercepted Heinicke's first pass and gave the ball right back to their offense. The Falcons dropped into zone coverage, and Heinicke failed to elevate his throw behind the zone to his intended target, Jahan Dotson, resulting an easy interception. Atlanta was able to march to the edge of field goal range, but Younghoe Koo's 58-yard kick ended up going just short and to the left. 10-10 at the half. 

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The Falcons lined up in the pistol and were stonewalled on fourth and one as running back Cordarrelle Patterson was stuffed just short of the line to gain. Commanders take over on the Atlanta 47 with 24 seconds remaining and all three timeouts. 

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Taylor Heinicke missed an open Terry McLaurin in the back of the end zone, so the Commanders settled for a 30-yard field goal. 10-10 with 1:50 left in the half for the Falcons offense.  

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10-7 Atlanta leads. The Falcons just pounded the Commanders into submission on that 11-play, 87-yard drives. A play-action throwback to tight end MyCole Pruitt is wide open after Atlanta's offensive line pounded the Commanders into submission. 

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Washington gets one first down, but after a couple backyard flick passes short in the flat, the Commanders are stopped short of the sticks. Commanders punt to begin the second quarter. 

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The Falcons get uncharacteristically pass-happy on that drive, throwing three passes, the last two falling incomplete after Marcus Mariota's eight-yard run. The first went for 15 and a first to Cordarrelle Patterson, but no dice on achieving a second first down through the air. The Falcons punt, and the Commanders begin their next drive on their own 18.  

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Rookie running back Brian Robinson takes a checkdown from Taylor Heinicke for the game's first touchdown from 14 yards out, running over the Falcons secondary by breaking multiple tackles. 7-3 Commanders with 3:46 left in the first. Atlanta set to start the second possession with 3:46 left in the first. That drive just looked easy for Heinicke as he completed all four passes for 63 yards and the score.

https://twitter.com/Commanders/status/1596931913989517312?s=20&t=zZq5OscM236CNIc8NToHxg   

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The Falcons open with an 11-play, 46-yard drive filled with plenty of runs and short, quick passes. The result: a 47-yard field goal from kicker Younghoe Koo. 3-0 Falcons after the opening drive. Taylor Heinicke and the Commanders offense takes the field for the first time with 8:07 left in the first quarter. 

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Washington has six consecutive games with a takeaway, their longest such streak since an eight-game streak from 2020-2021. They are 6-1 this season when they have a takeaway, and 0-4 when they don't this season. The Commanders have 12 takeaways since Week 6, the most in NFL. 

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The Falcons defense is going in the opposite direction of the Commanders' as they have allowed 20 or more points in five consecutive games, tied for the longest active streak in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars. They have allowed 20 or more points in 10 games this season, which is also tied for the most in NFL with their NFC South rivals, the New Orleans Saints. 

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The Atlanta Falcons running game is flourishing this season, averaging 159.4 rushing yards per game, the third-most in the NFL. However, it's at the expense of their passing as quarterback Marcus Mariota has thrown for fewer than 200 yards in seven of his past eight games.

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Following Carson Wentz's thumb injury and a 2-4 start, Commanders head coach Ron Rivera named Taylor Heinicke the team's starting quarterback as Washington is 4-1 in his starts this season. The Old Dominion alum has revived the team's top receiver, Terry McLaurin, as he is averaging 85.0 receiving yards per game in his last 5 games with Heinicke after averaging 61.2 in his first 6 games of the season with Wentz. 

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Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota may have a long day ahead of him since he's been the eighth-most pressured quarterback in the NFL this season, under pressure on 36% of his dropbacks, and the Commanders have the third-highest pressure rate in the league this season  (37.4%) behind the Patriots (37.7%) and Cowboys (43.7%)

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One of the biggest reasons for the Commanders' defensive turnaround is the improvement of their passing defense as they have allowed opposing quarterbacks to total an 81.2 passer rating since Week 6, the sixth-lowest in the NFL. In the first five weeks of the season, opposing passers compiled a 103.7 passer rating against Washington, the sixth-highest in the NFL 

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The Commanders are tied for the best record in the NFL since Week 6 (5-1) with the Minnesota Vikings, and at 6-5 they have a winning record through their first 11 games for the first time since 2018. 

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November 27, 2022, 4:30 PM
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