ATLANTA — The Georgia Dome crowd — even with all the no-shows — was rocking.
The hometown Atlanta Falcons had just recovered a fumble at the Washington Redskins’ 1, the result of yet another sack of quarterback Patrick Ramsey, and T.J. Duckett was about to score his second touchdown in less than two minutes to give Atlanta a commanding 17-point lead.
The Redskins, by all accounts, were down for the count. They were seemingly headed for a defeat of monstrous proportions, and the mood on the visiting sideline was not fit for family viewing.
“I don’t want to say a bad word,” Washington tackle Chris Samuels said. “But we felt like you-know-what.”
A couple of hours later, once Samuels and his teammates had turned “you-know-what” into a wild 33-31 win, the only thing the Redskins felt like was a 2-0 football team.
Despite an atrocious start in a hostile road venue, Washington rallied from its early 17-0 deficit to emerge victorious in a game that at one point looked like a lost cause.
“We could have easily folded up our tents, tucked our tails and say we’ll regroup next week,” linebacker LaVar Arrington said. “But the guys really fought. That’s what makes this special. It’s not so much the win. If we had lost, I still would have been very proud of our effort to try to come back and win the game.”
The Redskins’ second straight dramatic victory — the 16-13 thriller in the opener over the Jets almost seems like an afterthought now — propelled them to 2-0 for the first time since 1991, the last time the franchise won a Super Bowl.
“The two games that we’ve played, you couldn’t have written the scripts any better,” Arrington said. “Maybe we’ll have a documentary of this season, the way we keep winning these games.”
Any film, professional or amateur, of this game would undoubtedly feature the gutsy efforts of a pair of Redskins: Ramsey and wide receiver Laveranues Coles, each of whom battled through potentially serious injuries to post the games of their careers.
Ramsey, who sprained his left (non-throwing) shoulder on a late first half sack, fought through the pain to finish with a career-best 25 completions for a career-best 356 yards, two touchdowns and a near-spotless 110.6 quarterback rating. Coach Steve Spurrier said the injury could keep his quarterback, who was sacked six times, out of practice this week, but Ramsey insisted his ailment is not severe.
“I’ve just got a sprained shoulder,” he said. “I came in, got treatment, and I’m fine.”
Like Ramsey, Coles was battered, beaten and bruised by Atlanta’s defense. The free agent wide receiver twice had to walk off the field with apparent neck injuries, but he returned to torch the Falcons with 11 catches for 180 yards, both career highs.
Coles saved his two biggest plays of the day for a crucial fourth-quarter drive. With Washington clinging to a 26-24 lead, he first caught a screen pass from Ramsey and sprinted 33 yards down the sideline to the Atlanta 23. Two plays later, Coles made a pretty, over-the-shoulder catch for a 19-yard touchdown to give the Redskins a comfortable, nine-point lead.
“He’s incredibly tough and incredibly special,” Ramsey said of Coles, who in two games has 16 catches for 286 yards. “He’s a great receiver, a great addition. I couldn’t be prouder to have him on our football team.”
Ramsey and Coles’ offensive fireworks aside, Washington would not have been able to win this game if not for the complete 180-degree turn made by its defense and its offensive line, which spent the first quarter-plus in a funk trying to hold itself together amid the din of the Georgia Dome crowd.
The Redskins looked lost in the early going, with the defense surrendering big runs to Falcons backs Warrick Dunn (13 carries, 62 yards) and T.J. Duckett (35 yards, two touchdowns). The offensive line looked equally as fazed, committing several of Washington’s 12 penalties and failing on countless occasions to pick up Atlanta’s pass rushers.
Slowly but surely, though, the Redskins settled down. The defense, led by veteran end Bruce Smith, came up with a big stop early in the second quarter, the offense responded with its first scoring drive (capped by Ladell Betts’ 13-yard touchdown run) and the game was on.
“Any time you get down 17-0 on the road, that spells bad things,” said running back Trung Canidate, who rushed for a team-high 89 yards. “But we stuck with it. The guys said, ‘If we’re down, we’re down early. Let’s stick with the gameplan.’”
Relying on short, quick passes to its receivers, Washington cut the lead to 24-17 at the half. Ramsey led a 10-play, 76-yard drive to open the third quarter, hitting Rod Gardner (nine catches, 118 yards) for a 21-yard touchdown that tied the game 24-24.
And after punter Bryan Barker pinned the Falcons deep in their territory, Jessie Armstead came up with the play of the game. The veteran linebacker blitzed on second-and-9 at the 6 and sacked Atlanta quarterback Doug Johnson in the end zone for the Redskins’ first safety since Nov.20, 2000 against St. Louis.
“It came down to a safety,” Spurrier said, noting the eventual 2-point margin of victory. “We made one more play than they did.”
Coles’ touchdown catch made it 33-24, but the Falcons didn’t fold. Receiver Jimmy Farris beat rookie cornerback Ade Jimoh on a 42-yard scoring pass to cut the lead to 33-31 with 2:22 to play. But Atlanta’s onside kick attempt was illegally touched by one of its players, and the Redskins ran out all but the final 19 seconds on the clock.
“I guess Atlanta forgot there are four quarters in a game,” safety Matt Bowen said. “Their players were talking smack, and their fans were making noise. Guess who won the game?”