Skip to main content

What head coach Arthur Smith said about final quarter game management in loss to Washington Commanders

Breaking down three critical moments in the fourth quarter, with comments from Arthur Smith on what happened and why certain decisions were made. 

ATLANTA -- In the final quarter of the Falcons' 24-16 loss to the Washington Commanders at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday, the Falcons offensive unit experienced an issue they've yet to face in 2023. The problem had a foundation in miscommunication and procedural issues, head coach Arthur Smith said after the loss.

The Falcons lacked a certain sense of cleanliness in their fourth quarter operation. It was never more evident than in three specific, and critical, game situations. With direct comments and explanations from Smith, let's go through three moments that ultimately secured the Washington win in Atlanta.

Situation No. 1: The Falcons go for 2

What happened: The Falcons were down by 14 as the third quarter bled into fourth quarter. They were moving the ball well to start the final quarter of play, having made it to the Washington 2-yard line after a neutral-zone infraction by the Commanders defense. With a short toss from Desmond Ridder to Jonnu Smith, the Falcons got in the end zone. With the score at 24-16, and with 12:38 left on the clock, the Falcons decided to go for a 2-point conversion try.

The first try had the Falcons attempt to hit Drake London on an island with a defender in the end zone. The Washington defender in coverage was called for a defensive pass interference, so the 2-point conversion play was re-tried and moved up to the Washington 1-yard line. Tyler Allgeier was given the handoff, but he was stood up at the same yard line. The Falcons failed to convert, and the score stayed the same at 24-16.

What was said: After the game, Smith was asked about the decision to go for two with so much time still on the clock.

"We did it last year at (Los Angeles)," Smith said. "We're down 14. You're in the fourth quarter. Those are the consequences you live with. We did it in L.A. and we even got it to six. We did it in Tampa last year, right? Down there. Down 14, late. You have two shots at it. You get it, it's a six-point game. We've done it before. They get the penalty. We got them to the one, and then they stopped us. We did it last year, twice."

The difference in these situations is the time remaining on the clock. In Week 2 of the 2022 season against the Rams, the Falcons were down 31-17 when Troy Andersen blocked a punt that Lorenzo Carter returned for a touchdown. The Falcons came out -- with less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter -- and successfully converted a two-point conversion to cut the score to 31-25.

Against the Buccaneers in Week 5 of the 2022 season, the Falcons were down 21-7 when they drove down to score a touchdown with just under five minutes on the game clock then as well. They went for the 2-point conversion try and it, too, was successful, cutting the score to 21-15.

In the end, Atlanta lost both of those games.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder #9 prepares to take a snap during the fourth quarter of the Week 6 Game against the Washington Commanders at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia on Sunday, October 15, 2023. (Photo by Shanna Lockwood/Atlanta Falcons)

Situation No. 2: Desmond Ridder's end zone interception

What happened: After the defense came up with a three-and-out stop following the failed 2-point conversion, the Falcons offense came back out, taking over on their own 11-yard line. About five minutes later, the Falcons were in a really good spot. Daron Payne was flagged for a neutral-zone infraction, putting the Falcons at second-and-goal from the 2-yard line.

The second-down pass play came up incomplete. Then, a delay of game penalty pushed the Falcons back five yards. Now, instead of third-and-goal from the 2-yard line, it was third-and-goal from the seven. Two very different situations.

With third down upon them, the game clock ticked on without the Falcons snapping the ball to start the third-down play. The Falcons broke the huddle with 15 seconds left only to take it to one second when the ball was finally snapped. Once snapped, the play looked discombobulated from the start. With London in the back of the end zone, Ridder tried for the receiver only for the throw to come up short and into the arms of Benjamin St-Juste.

What was said: After the game, Smith was asked about the delay of game penalty and the interception that followed.

Ultimately, Smith said there was a miscommunication. Ridder clarified that it was a miscommunication between him and London about the route London was running.

"There's a lot going on, right? We had the penalty, and then the clock was stopped. We got a delay of game. It changed the scenario, and we have to be a lot cleaner there, and we will," Smith said. "We had some guys who needed to come out. Our operations weren't very clean. We'll get that fixed."

"Then, the third down, the play extension, we had a little bit of miscommunication. It's on all of us. We have to get better. We have to get it fixed."

When asked if he felt Ridder panicked in the situation as the clock was getting closer and closer to zero, Smith said no.

"It's not panicking," Smith said. "There's so much that go into the logistics. The one thing Des was not going to do was panic. That's not what it is. Like I said, a miscommunication. It happened."

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder #9 during the Week 6 Game against the Washington Commanders at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia on Sunday, October 15, 2023. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Atlanta Falcons)

Situation No. 3: The Falcons use their final timeout

What happened: The Falcons had one more chance to score after another defensive stop gave them the ball back right at the 2-minute warning. On their own 7-yard line, the Falcons began their 2-minute drill, moving the ball at a productive clip with only one timeout remaining.

After getting the ball to the Washington 34-yard line, Ridder spiked the ball to stop the clock with just over 30 seconds remaining in the game. The Falcons were still down 24-16.

With the game clock winding down, again, Smith was forced to use his final timeout after the Falcons clocked it the play before. Coming out of the timeout, Ridder's pass intended for Bijan Robinson was intercepted. The game officially ended a play later with the Commanders in victory formation.

What was said: After the game, Smith was asked about having to burn his final timeout in order to not take another delay of game penalty.

"We had a little bit of miscommunication coming out of the huddle," Smith said, "it slowed him down, so I wasn't going to take the delay there. We have to do a better job."

A main issue for the Falcons in their Week 6 loss had to do with game management, procedural penalties (or near-penalties in some cases) and communication. This, Smith said, is not normal issues for the Falcons and it's something they need to rectify quickly.

"Sometimes it's a snowball effect. You're moving a guy around here, there. They sound like excuses, but that's what happened," Smith said. "We've all got to be better. It's always going to start with me. It hasn't been an issue, but it was (Sunday). You have to acknowledge that. And it's a tough pill to swallow."

Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Washington Commanders during Week 6.

Related Content