LANDOVER, Md. -- The Falcons had won consecutive games only once entering Week 12. Positive and negative results have normally been mixed, producing to a record predictably hovering around even.
This a time, however, when wins need to come more consistently if they're truly an NFC South contender. It was fun to discuss earlier in the year, but this is the time to make a real move.
The Falcons had an opportunity to surge here at Washington, to follow a victory over the Chicago Bears with another one over the Commanders.
They weren't able to do that, suffering a 19-13 loss at FedEx Field where a comeback attempt ended just a few yards short.
Here's what stood out in this one:
Falcons come up just short of comeback
The Falcons started well and struggled throughout most of the second half, but still found themselves in possession, down six points with five minutes remain. Despite some significant struggles, they had a chance to go win it at the end.
The Falcons scored 10 points on their first three drives. They were mixing efficient passes into a steadily churning ground game, which is this team's recipe for success. There were some clutch plays sprinkled in, most notably a 29-yard catch Drake London made, while, leaping, with his fingertips.
That catch extended a drive that ended in a MyCole Pruitt touchdown, a moment of celebration that started an offensive drought lasting five full series.
On that sixth drive, there was hope.
Marcus Mariota increased optimism with a spectacular an effort 44-yard completion to Olamide Zaccheaus, where the quarterback evaded pressure, bent down, stood back up and hit his receiver for a big gain. Then the Falcons started pounding the ball into the red zone, getting closer and closer to pay dirt and a victory that seemed unlikely just a few drives earlier.
The Falcons were down on the 2-yard line, were driven back a bit and then the worst possible Falcons outcome came about. Mariota threw an interception that was tipped and then picked by Kendall Fuller for a touchback that put the Falcons in dire straits.
The defense was able to get three-and-out, but a Falcons penalty on the Washington punt essentially sealed this result.
Run defense wears down, holds strong in clutch
The Falcons were able to find a solid defensive rhythm after the first drive and through their first series of the third quarter, holding the Commanders to just three points. Then came an 11-play, 60-yard drive in the third quarter where Washington ran the ball nine times for 44 yards. That's straight of the Falcons playbook, when they decide to, you know, run the pee pee out of the ball. They run the ball hard, and over time, Brian Robinson and Antonio Gibson took a toll.
Robinson in particular proved to be a punisher, especially when he reached the second level and faced lighter defenders. Washington followed that methodical drive with another one, chewing up clock while keeping the Falcons defense on the field. The cumulative effect was evident in the second half, when the Falcons struggled getting off the field. They were able to hold up midway through the fourth quarter, but still gave up a field goal
The Falcons got a three and out on the next drive, giving the offense a chance to go win it. While it wasn't pretty for the defensive front in the second half, they created a window of opportunity. That's all you can ask for in tight games like this.
How Falcons move the ball without Pitts
The Falcons started what should be a prolonged journey – at least four games -- playing without star tight end Kyle Pitts. This unwelcome development was prompted by a Week 11 knee injury suffered against the Chicago Bears. He was placed on injured reserve later in the week, leading many to wonder how the Falcons would fare without their best receiving option and a solid run blocker.
There's no replacing Pitts with a single player. His skill set is too versatile, his talent level too high for that. The by-committee approach was employed instead, with more snaps for MyCole Pruitt and Anthony Firkser coming off his regular spot on the inactive list.
It meant more receiving action for Cordarrelle Patterson, though still while lining up in the backfield and still not a ton. Frank Darby was recently signed to the 53-man roster and Bryan Edwards was released, but Darby was ultimately inactive. Drake London and Olamide Zaccheaus played a ton, with Damiere Byrd as the third receiver and tight ends lining up in the slot fairly often.
While Pitts' absence fundamentally changes the way they're defended, the passing game didn't get much cooler than normal. It wasn't any better, obviously without its' best player.
This will be the offense's new normal, for a little while and possibly longer. How efficient they can remain will be key moving forward, though it's hard to say that we saw anyone in particular step in and significantly increase production on Sunday with Pitts out.
Call for questions
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Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Washington Commanders during Week 12.