The worst-case scenario developed for the Redskins as Robert Griffin III lay on the ground, knocked woozy -- and then some -- from a vicious third-quarter hit. It didn't end their chances, but it did remind them of his importance.
The Redskins even managed to grab a late lead vs. Atlanta thanks to a 77-yard Kirk Cousins to Santana Moss touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. However, the Redskins needed Griffin's late-game touch. Without it, the result became predictable: Cousins threw two interceptions, and the Falcons rallied for a 24-17 win.
Washington has dropped eight straight games at home dating to last season. The Redskins fell to 2-3, while Atlanta improved to 5-0.
Minus Griffin, the Redskins lost their best playmaker. Cousins' touchdown came when Moss broke wide open down the middle, but aside from that the Redskins only gained 34 yards after Griffin exited with 6:22 left in the third on linebacker Sean Weatherspoon's hit.
"I don't like anyone hitting my quarterback," running back Alfred Morris (18 carries, 115 yards) said.
Griffin was diagnosed by a neurologist with a mild concussion -- he could not remember what quarter it was. He will be re-evaluated Monday. Given how many times Griffin has run with the ball, what happened was almost inevitable. It doesn't help that his mindset is still to get every yard possible. In this situation, it was a third-and-goal from the 3-yard line; he wasn't going to score.
"Robert is going to keep on learning, but we have something special," Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said. "We've got a guy that competes and tries to make plays. Every game he goes in, just like that last play in the red zone ... that's all part of the learning experience that he is going to gain."
The problem is so much of the Redskins' offense is tied to Griffin. They had to scrap the zone reads they run with him and the pistol formation and go with more traditional sets.
"It changes everything," Redskins tight end Fred Davis said. "We don't get to practice with Kirk. For him to come in like that, he did pretty well even though he was under a lot of pressure. When you don't get that practice time with a guy, you don't get the feel for the players. Robert is a definite asset to the offense. We do so many different things with him in there."
And considering that Cousins, like backups elsewhere, is a rookie and rarely takes snaps with the starters during the week, what happened to him was inevitable, too.
"You don't sign up to play at this level expecting it not to be difficult," Cousins said. "The bottom line is I didn't get it done the way I wanted to today."
Cousins completed a 20-yard pass to Pierre Garcon to the Atlanta 49 with 2:10 left in the game and Atlanta leading by seven. However, on second-and-7 his pass to tight end Fred Davis was intercepted by cornerback Dunta Robinson.
After the defense forced a punt, Cousins and the offense got another chance. But with receiver Joshua Morgan open underneath, Cousins forced a pass to Santana Moss. It would have required a great throw. But it instead was too high and intercepted.
"They were dropping off, playing soft," Cousins said. "When they do that, you have to come underneath. I wanted so badly to take us down, and I wanted to do too much, and a couple throws got away from me. In hindsight, take a 3- or 4-yard gain and be patient and let it come to me. I tried to do too much."
The only snaps Cousins has taken in a two-minute drill in practice have come with the scout team.
"I tip my hat to him," Redskins receiver Santana Moss said. "He had to come in not knowing he probably would have to play. He showed that anytime he's called upon he'll make plays."
Said Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall: "Guys go down, and the next guy has to step up and make the play. Kirk made the play, but we have to ask more of him. We have to ask more of everyone in the locker room."
Cousins' touchdown pass gave the Redskins a brief 17-14 lead until the Falcons answered with a 53-yard Matt Bryant field goal. After a Redskins three-and-out, Falcons running back Michael Turner scored on a 13-yard run, capping a six-play drive for a 24-17 lead.
The Falcons ran 33 more plays than the Redskins as Washington converted just one of nine third downs (to nine of 17 for Atlanta). It took away from a solid effort by the defense for much of the game. They held the Falcons scoreless in the first quarter and returned an interception for a touchdown in the second (by linebacker Ryan Kerrigan). But the Falcons had four plays of at least 14 yards in the fourth quarter en route to the win.
"We didn't do a good job finishing," Hall said.