LANDOVER, Md. -- During the week leading up to the Falcons' 38-14 victory against the Washington Redskins (5-3), coach Dan Quinn said the matchup pitted two teams with defined and contrasting styles.
The Falcons (4-4), often seek to be aggressive and take several shots throughout the game on offense, while the Redskins have utilized a conservative approach led by a strong running game and a stout defensive front. Both teams wanted to impose their style on Sunday, but it was the Falcons who executed their game plan in their most dominant showing this season.
"Getting out to a fast start on this team I thought was especially critical," Quinn said. "And good for the offense to get going right away. I think the defense had a three-and-out to start the game, and I thought that couldn't have gone better for them."
Atlanta's defense forced Washington into a three-and-out on its opening possession, and the Falcons' offense quickly put the team ahead with a 39-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to Tevin Coleman.
The defense continued stifle the Redskins' offense, shutting down Adrian Peterson on the ground and knocking passes out of the hands of Washington receivers. It wasn't long before a 12-yard touchdown run by rookie running back Ito Smith put Atlanta ahead by two touchdowns.
By grabbing an early two-score lead, the Falcons were forcing the Redskins to abandon their No. 8-ranked rushing attack and rely on Alex Smith to mount a comeback, which is exactly what they wanted to do. Washington's run-based approach on offense had often allowed it to extend drives this season, while its defense was the ninth-best unit on third down.
Atlanta beat Washington convincingly in both of those areas.
The Falcons converted a staggering 77 percent of their third-down attempts on Sunday, sustaining long drives and ultimately converting them into points, while their defense allowed the Redskins' offense to convert just 38 percent of their third downs.
"I think when you're playing a team that is as successful as they are in terms of possessing the ball, you'd better have your third down in order so they can't continue drives and give our offense fewer possessions," Quinn said. "I thought that Marquand [Manuel] and Jerome [Henderson] and the guys did an excellent job in that way, to make sure that these drives weren't extending.
With a lead established, the Falcons were able to rely on their own running game to stay balanced and eat at the clock. While Atlanta's run game hasn't been a major factor for much of the season, it certainly was on Sunday.
Coleman led the way, carrying the ball 13 times for 88 yards - he also caught five passes for 68 yards and two touchdowns - while Smith had 10 carries for a career-best 60 yards and the 12-yard touchdown run. The Falcons gained 154 yards on the ground against a Redskins defense was the second-best unit in the NFL against the run, allowing just 80 yards per game.
"We knew this team was exceptional in that area," Quinn said. " ... The big guys, they put the work in. They did extra, they found their spots for our pad level that we could improve upon. We were encouraged to see that. We know that we are at our best when both the run game and the pass game are in balance. And today we had that and the results were there."
The Falcons executed their game plan flawlessly on Sunday, and it resulted in their first road win of the season. Atlanta has gone 12-4 over its final eight games during the last two seasons, and they appear to be trending upwards after the win in Washington.
Atlanta's offense gained nearly 500 yards, while Ryan, who completed 68 percent of his passes for 350 yards and four touchdowns, continues to play at an MVP level. The Falcons' run game got back on track, Julio Jones scored his first touchdown of the season, and the defense allowed just 14 points, the fewest they've allowed this season.
Now back at .500, the Falcons have life in the NFC playoff race, but they aren't thinking big picture. They have taken a single-game approach, and that's what they will continue to do during the back half of the season.
"It was an excellent performance in all three phases today," Quinn said. "And when we go back, we'll go put the work in. There's not a moment that we're ready to relax and think we're OK where we're at. We've got plenty of work to do, and you can count on this team and this group of guys doing that."