The Washington Commanders have stressed the need to create more turnovers since the offseason, saying that if they can manage to get their hands on the ball at a more consistent rate, it will have a reverberating effect on the entire team.
The Commanders' defense has been searching for those game-changing plays for weeks, and they finally found them in ample supply against the Atlanta Falcons.
After giving up an average of 37 points during the team's three-game losing streak, the Commanders' defense was the catalyst for the Burgundy & Gold, coming up with three interceptions on Desmond Ridder to help give Washington a 24-16 win over the Atlanta Falcons, its third straight win over the team in as many years.
Coach Ron Rivera said after the Commanders' 40-20 loss to the Chicago Bears that the team used the weekend to dive into several aspects, and in some areas, it seems as if the extra attention paid off.
The explosive plays still popped up at times -- the Falcons had seven plays of at least 17 yards, including a 32-yard grab from Drake London -- and Ridder passed for 307 yards on 28 completions, but the Commanders did manage to keep the Falcons out of the end zone, which has been a problem for the defense since Week 2 against the Denver Broncos.
But as the Commanders' offense went through a drought in the second half -- they were outgained by Atlanta, 238-58, during that span -- the defense held strong and came away with several critical stops. The Falcons gave up an interception on three of their last six drives and turned over the ball on downs once.
Despite punting on four of their last five drives, Washington managed to do enough to win by putting up its most points in a win since Week 2. Sam Howell wasn't asked to throw the ball nearly as much, but he was efficient, completing 14-of-23 passes for 151 yards and three touchdowns -- a first for the second-year quarterback.
And Washington got off to the fast start that has eluded them for most of the season. The Commanders scored on three of their first four drives, starting with a 37-yard field goal from Joey Slye to wrap up a 12-play opening drive.
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)
After the Falcons responded with a nine-yard touchdown to Kyle Pitts, the Commanders took advantage of a short field following a 61-yard punt return by Jamison Crowder -- the longest for Washington since 2016. The offense needed just three plays to get in the end zone with Antonio Gibson running wide open on a one-yard catch.
The first major stop from the Commanders' defense came on the Falcons' ensuing drive. Ridder moved his offense down to the Commanders' 48-yard line before getting stopped on third-and-3. Head coach Arthur Smith elected to keep his unit on the field, but Kamren Curl, who had 11 tackles and three pass breakups, swatted a ball away from Bijan Robinson, who was held to just 37 yards on 13 carries.
Washington responded by marching 52 yards down the field and extending its lead to 10 with a seven-yard touchdown by Curtis Samuel. With Atlanta being held to a field goal in the final two minutes of the second quarter, it was 17-10 at halftime.
Here's where Washington's defense started to put the game away. Five plays into the Falcons' opening drive of the third quarter, Kendall Fuller, who had nearly made an interception in the first half, jumped a pass by Ridder and gave Washington the ball at the Falcons' 27-yard line. Two plays later, Brian Robinson Jr. bowled over a Falcons defender on his way to a 24-yard receiving touchdown.
The Falcons did chip away at the Commanders' lead with a touchdown from Jonnu Smith in the fourth quarter, but there were several plays from Washington's defense that snuffed out Atlanta's attempt to gain some momentum. After Brian Robinson's touchdown, Casey Toohill took Ridder down for an 11-yard loss on third down. The Commanders also kept the Falcons out of the end zone on a two point try that would have brought Atlanta within a touchdown of taking the lead.
Another backbreaker for the Falcons came with five minutes left in the fourth quarter. Ridder had moved the Falcons down to the Commanders' 7-yard line, but he lobbed up an easy interception for Benjamin St-Juste, who took a knee in the end zone to force a touchback.
Finally, after Washington failed to sustain a drive to put the game away on back-to-back attempts, Ridder gave the ball away a third time with less than 30 seconds left. The Falcons moved Bijan Robinson out wide, and the Commanders responded by putting Jamin Davis in man coverage against him.
Davis picked the pass with ease, giving the Commanders the chance to run out the clock.
Washington broke a winning streak last year in Week 6 as well. The 12-7 win over the Bears wasn't pretty, but it did start a winning stretch for the Commanders that put them back into playoff contention.
With the team traveling next week to East Rutherford, New Jersey to take on the New York Giants, perhaps a similar turnaround is in the works.