The Washington Commanders snapped their three-game losing streak with a 24-16 win over the Atlanta Falcons. Here are five takeaways from the victory, presented by Maryland Lottery.
1. Three game-changing interceptions.
Washington's defense had plenty of plays that were almost interceptions heading into the game against the Falcons. Players managed to get their hands on the ball, but for one reason or another, it would bounce out of their hands for an incompletion.
That changed on Sunday, though, as the Commanders managed to bring in three picks, all in the second half, that had a direct outcome on the game.
The first came on a third-and-7 during the Falcons' opening drive of the second half. The Commanders brought pressure with six defenders, forcing Desmond Ridder to get rid of the ball early. The throw was intended for newly-acquired receiver Van Jefferson, but Kendall Fuller, who was in zone coverage, jumped the pass and allowed the offense to set up at the Falcons' 27-yard line.
As clutch as the play was, the other two interceptions were perhaps far more critical to the outcome. The Falcons had the chance to tie the score with a third-and-goal at the Commanders' 7-yard line, but with Ridder pressured by James Smith-Williams and Casey Toohill, the quarterback threw the ball right to Benjamin St-Juste in the end zone.
The final interception was the game-sealer. With 31 seconds left and no timeouts on the clock, Ridder's pass intended for Bijan Robinson was picked off by Jamin Davis -- the first of his career -- which allowed Washington to run down the clock.
Check out the top photos of the Washington Commanders at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for their Week 6 matchup against the Atlanta Falcons. (Photos by Emilee Fails, Kourtney Carroll and Joe Noyes/Washington Commanders)
2. A momentum-swinging punt return.
It's been a while since Washington has had a punt return that flipped the field the way Jamison Crowder did in the second quarter. The last time it happened was in 2016 against the Baltimore Ravens, and coincidentally, Crowder was also the returner on that play.
The Commanders were down 7-3 to start the second quarter, and after the Falcons were stopped short on three-and-out, they had a chance to capitalize and get back on top.
Crowder caught the ball at the 27-yard line and sidestepped to his right before sprinting upfield. He weaved through Falcons defenders and left punter Bradley Pinion diving at his feet. He ultimately was tackled at the Falcons' 11-yard line, but it was close enough to put Washington in scoring position.
Three plays later, Washington took the lead and did not give it up for the rest of the afternoon.
3. The offense did enough to win.
Speaking of the Commanders' offense, the unit had a bit of a mixed performance against the eighth-ranked Falcons defense. It wasn't the cleanest day that it's had this season, but it was also a drastic improvement on how it looked against the Chicago Bears in the first half.
We'll start with the positives. Washington got off to the hot start that it's wanted for weeks, scoring on three of its first four possessions. Howell only threw the ball 23 times, but he was efficient with 14 completions and three touchdowns.
During the stretch that saw Washington go up 17-7, the offense was methodical when it needed to be, like the 12-play drive to open the game; it scored in go-ahead scenarios, such as punching it into the end zone at the Falcons' 11-yard line; and it was efficient during the seven-play drive that covered 52 yards in just over three minutes.
The second half, however, was more of a struggle. Outside of the 24-yard touchdown by Brian Robinson Jr., the Commanders didn't do much to move the ball, putting up just 58 yards on 18 plays. They punted on all four of their final drives, and their inability to put together a string of first downs in the fourth quarter helped Atlanta stay in the game.
Clearly, there's still plenty of work to be done on offense, but the good news is that Washington was able to build an early lead and do enough to keep it. For now, that's something to build on.
4. A big day for Washington's defensive depth.
Washington's defensive starters like Davis and St-Juste had plenty of key plays, but its depth players were just as important in helping stall the Falcons' offense.
We'll start with Toohill, who had two tackles to go with a pair of sacks. With the ball at the 44-yard line on a third-and-3, Ridder rolled out to his right to avoid pressure but could not escape Toohill, who brought down the quarterback for an 11-yard line and forced a punt. Later on, with less than three minutes left to play, Toohill took Ridder down again for a sack at the line of scrimmage, which later led to a turnover on downs.
There's also Khaleke Hudson, who only had three tackles but managed to make impressive stops. He and Davis took down Tyler Allgeier for a just two-yard gain, and he did the same thing against Bijan Robinson working with Cody Barton.
And then there's cornerback Danny Johnson, who came up with the drive-killing pass breakup on a pass intended for Kyle Pitts.
Washington's starters needed to step up on Sunday, and they did, but the team also got quality snaps from its backups to help turn the tide.
5. Back on track.
Washington has been on a downward spiral for the better part of a month after its last-second win over the Denver Broncos. It's been blown out and dropped heartbreakers in the last three contests, forcing the team to take a hard look at itself after its loss to the Chicago Bears.
Now, the Commanders are back to .500, and at 3-3, it's important to remember that there are plenty of opportunities in the short term for them to improve their record.
That starts with the New York Giants, who are 1-4 and dealing with injuries to several key players. Following them are the Philadelphia Eagles, who the Commanders took to overtime in Week 4, at FedExField. Then, there are the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks, both on the road, who have a combined record of 4-6.
It's a string of games where the Commanders should at least be competitive, and perhaps the win over the Falcons can be the start of more success if they can play to their expectations.