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A day of ups and downs for the Redskins

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A day of ups and downs for the Redskins

ATLANTA—When Scot McCloughan came in as the Redskins general manager, the talked about having a tough team. Jay Gruden has talked a lot about resilience lately. The Redskins displayed both attributes by the bushel in the Georgia Dome today but they couldn’t come away with a win.

They seemed to have today’s game with the Falcons under control at times. A few times it looked like they were sure to win it. At others it looked like there was no way they would be able to rally. Here is a look at the game’s ups and downs.

Up: The Redskins did what they have been doing all year, putting together a long drive and capping it with a score. This one went 12 plays and culminated in a seven-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to Derek Carrier to give the Redskins a 7-0 lead in the second quarter. I looked like the Redskins were having one of those lucky days as Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant dinked makeable field goals off of both the left and right uprights.

Down: Bryant did manage to his a couple of field goals, though, and the Redskins were clinging to a 7-6 lead in the fourth quarter. Then the Falcons got a little luck as Devonta Freeman fumbled trying to get it into the end zone but Julius Jones recovered the ball in the end zone for a touchdown that put the Falcons up 12-7 with 9:14 left to play.

Up: The Redskins bounced back immediately, taking just three plays to regain the lead. A 26-yard pass from Cousins to Jamison Crowder got things going. Then Cousins went for Rashad Ross on a deep pass that drew a pass interference flag. That set up Matt Jones’ two yard touchdown run on the next play and the Redskins were up 13-12.

Things were looking even better after Bashaud Breeland picked off a Matt Ryan pass and made a nifty 28-yard return to the Atlanta 21. They burned off over three minutes of clock before Dustin Hopkins’ field goal put them up by four with 2:38 left.

Down: But they don’t call Ryan Matty Ice for nothing. He engineered an 80-yard drive. It looked like Freeman scored the game winner with 51 seconds left when he lunged into the end zone after catching a slant from Ryan. But the ball popped loose when he hit the ground and a replay review overturned it. No matter, Freeman scored on a run with 24 seconds left to put the Falcons up 19-16. So all the replay reversal did was allow the Falcons to burn more time off of the clock and create an even more desperate situation when the Redskins got the ball at the 20 after the kickoff.

Up: But it turned out that the Redskins had just enough time. A 20-yard pass from Cousins to Carrier got it going and then a deep pass over the middle to Pierre Garçon got them to the edge of field goal range. After Jamison gained seven yards on an out pattern, Hopkins came in and booted a 52-yard field goal to send it into overtime.

Things were looking good in overtime as the Redskins moved to midfield. They were a few plays away from perhaps a field goal to take the lead our a touchdown that would win it.

Down: The one last down moment was the dagger. On second down, Cousins had pressure in his face and pass to the right sideline in the direction of Ryan Grant. But the receiver slipped to the ground, allowing Robert Alford to get an easy interception and a 59-yard return for the TD to end it.

MORE REDSKINS: Redskins lose a heartbreaker as Cousins throws OT pick-six

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What the Redskins' offense must improve to ensure it's effective versus non-Dolphins defenses

What the Redskins' offense must improve to ensure it's effective versus non-Dolphins defenses

The Redskins' win against the Dolphins comes with a large, aqua and orange, possibly 0-16 sized asterisk.

Yes, Washington was able to notch its first victory this year, and doing that after firing a head coach and making yet another quarterback change is worthy of praise. It's also important for every guy in that locker room, especially with the chatter that was already emerging last week regarding the team possibly losing every game this year.

But still, the entire roster has to be better if it hopes to take down other, non-Dolphins opponents, especially the offense. There are a couple of areas where the unit clearly must improve to have a chance in their final 10 contests. Luckily, they aren't difficult to spot.

The first is their level of aggression.

Adrian Peterson thrived in Bill Callahan's run-focused approach, posting more rushing yards at Hard Rock Stadium than he had in total coming into Week 6. Like the first sentence of this story says, don't get too carried away (pun not originally intended but will leave it in there) because Miami is the worst run defense in the sport, but it was encouraging to see Peterson come alive and break some long ones.

What wasn't encouraging, on the other hand, were a few sequences where Callahan seemed far too content to play it safe.

The most egregious came at the end of the first half, where the Redskins got possession at their own 25-yard line with 1:07 left to play and a timeout to use. A second down Case Keenum scramble advanced the ball to the 34, but instead of hurrying up to get more snaps in or stopping the clock, the group took its time before picking up the first down 40 seconds later.

An incomplete pass and a give-up draw followed, so the Redskins went into the half with a 7-3 lead. They didn't use their timeout, they didn't push for a field goal attempt and they didn't even try a Hail Mary.

Callahan owned up to the sequence at his postgame presser, explaining he was OK with where the score was at. That mindset won't work from Week 7 on, however. Instead of accepting whatever future score advantages the Redskins have, they need to look to widen it in situations like that.

They're 1-5. Why be so conservative?

Of course, it's easier to be aggressive if your QB is locked in. Washington didn't exactly have that luxury in Florida.

Case Keenum was largely somewhat fine to fine in his return to the lineup, and thanks to a few shots to Terry McLaurin and that effort from Peterson, his return ended with a win. Afterward, Callahan named him the starter for the upcoming 49ers contest, but he has to do more if he's going to hold off Dwayne Haskins (writer's note: Haskins should be on the field by now).

That said, it may also help him if he was asked to do a little more, which ties into the first point. He averaged just 6.6 yards per attempt, which is a number similar to that of bottom-third offenses in the league. 58 of his 166 yards came on the two scores to McLaurin, meaning his other 11 completions and 23 tries went for just 108.

At some point, and likely some point soon, Callahan's beloved running game will be limited and the Redskins' signal-caller will have to make some throws and be the one responsible for moving the ball. It'll either be Keenum or, if he is mediocre again, it may then be Haskins. Whoever it is, though, he has to air it out more effectively.

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It’s been a while, but it’s time to praise Ereck Flowers and the Redskins offensive line

It’s been a while, but it’s time to praise Ereck Flowers and the Redskins offensive line

The Redskins bulldozed the Miami defense on Sunday, and it’s been a while since this sentence got written, but the Washington offensive line deserves a big part of the credit. 

For the first time this year the Redskins went for more than 100-yards rushing and Washington quarterback Case Keenum did not get sacked the entire game. 

Regardless of the opponent, that’s an impressive day for an offensive line. Add in the fact that the Redskins O-line got zero penalties called on them, and it’s quite an impressive day. 

“We really wanted to clean up the line of scrimmage penalties we had,” Redskins interim head coach Bill Callahan said after the 17-16 win in Miami.

Coming into that game the Redskins were one of the most penalized teams in the NFL, and the offensive line was a big part of that. A clean sheet on Sunday almost seemed impossible after a slew of holding calls and procedural flags became commonplace during the team’s 0-5 start.

“We try to stay away from holdings, hands outside the framework of the body,” Callahan said. “I thought our players were really focused and concentrated on getting that done.”

It’s also time to credit the Redskins front office for the left side of the line. Pro Personnel director Alex Santos had to really sell veteran Donald Penn on joining the team this August, and without Trent Williams around, Penn has been very important. 

There’s also the experiment of signing Ereck Flowers, a terrible tackle in New York for four seasons, and turning him into a guard. That’s working too. 

The challenge will grow significantly next week when the 49ers come to Washington. San Francisco is almost the opposite of Miami. They’re undefeated with a vicious defensive front and a high-scoring offense. 

For one week, the switch from Jay Gruden to Callahan appears to have worked. When Gruden was fired last Monday, Callahan moved quickly to change the physicality and intensity of his practice sessions and commit to running the football. It worked against Miami, barely as Ryan Fitzpatrick nearly lead a fourth-quarter comeback, but it worked. 

“When you can transfer that type of effort into the game, their preparedness, their willingness to extend themselves physically, that’s invaluable,” Callahan said. “I’m really proud of our kids and how they played today. We’ve got to get ready for a tougher team coming in here this week.”

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