- - Sunday, October 7, 2012

The first words out of Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan’s mouth, even before he addressed the health of his franchise quarterback, were about the one stat that killed his team in Sunday’s 24-17 loss to Atlanta.

“I thought in the first half we had some opportunities to get some momentum going and couldn’t make those third downs,” he said. “That’s been pretty consistent for us to be the football team we need to be, and be able to keep someone a little bit more off-balance than we did, we’ve got to convert on those third downs. We were close, had a couple of hands that were very close to making those third downs, but you’ve got to make them.”

The Redskins were 0 for 4 in the first half on third down, and finished the game 1 for 9 in keeping drives alive. On the flip side, their defense could not get the Falcons off the field as Atlanta converted 9 of 17 third-down opportunities to wear down a game unit that played well for most of the contest.

“You have to get off the field on third down to stem the tide,” nose tackle Barry Cofield said. “You have to make a big play, whether it be in the pass rush or secondary coverage. Sometimes big plays can erase a lot of sins.”

On offense, the Redskins‘ only third-down conversion came in the fourth quarter, on Kirk Cousins’ lightning-strike 79-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss on third and 9.

“We kind of had one third down that I’d like to have back,” Atlanta coach Mike Smith said.

Otherwise, the Redskins labored to find a rhythm on third down. Quarterback Robert Griffin was 1 for 3 for 5 yards on third down, and Alfred Morris registered minus-1 yard on two third-down carries.

And, it was on third down when Griffin was knocked out of the game, sacked on third and 3 resulting in a 2-yard loss and his exit from the game with a concussion.

“I thought we were moving the ball well enough, but you’ve got to make a few third downs to get the points on the scoreboard,” Shanahan said.

The situation was equally as frustrating on defense, where Atlanta repeatedly kept a tiring Redskins unit on the field by picking up clutch conversions.

“They’ve done a great job. When you look at the statistics coming into the game, they did a great job all year executing on third down,” safety Madieu Williams said. “They are a very good offense. You have to give credit where credit is due. They did a great job executing.”