ATLANTA — Bashaud Breeland heard the talk during the week. With DeAngelo Hall and Chris Culliver still injured and the Atlanta Falcons’ passing attack leaving them undefeated through four games, he knew the matchups did not appear to be in the Washington Redskins’ favor.
That’s why, on Sunday, he decided to do something about it.
Breeland had one of the Redskins’ two interceptions, and a patchwork secondary held together long enough to challenge the Falcons, who won, 25-19, in overtime on an interception return.
Entering his second year, Breeland was pressed into significant action in Week 3 last season, when Hall tore his left Achilles’ tendon.
With Hall missing a second consecutive game because of a sprained toe, and Culliver still reeling from a variety of left leg injuries that left him hobbled a week ago, Breeland started opposite Will Blackmon, a nine-year veteran who only joined the Redskins following their opener.
The Falcons entered the game averaging 389.7 passing yards a game, fifth in the league, but were held to 242 yards on Sunday. Quarterback Matt Ryan, who had thrown for more than 250 yards in each of his last 11 games, narrowly cleared that mark by completing 24 of 42 passes for 254 yards.
He was held without a touchdown pass, which he did only once all of last season, and the two interceptions doubled his total on the season.
The one by Breeland in the fourth quarter seemed to be what the Redskins needed to put the Falcons away. Facing first-and-10 from his own 35-yard line, Ryan intended a pass for wide receiver Roddy White on a crossing route that was late and went directly to Breeland.
The cornerback, who snagged the pass at the Falcons’ 49-yard line, wove through several bodies and gained 28 yards on the ensuing return. It put the Redskins at Atlanta’s 21-yard line with 5:44 remaining at a one-point lead, but they were forced to settle for a field goal and a four-point lead.
“I compete no matter who it is,” Breeland said. “[In] big games, nobody really expects me to go out there and do anything, so that’s why I take pride in myself to go out there and show the world that I’ve got talent, too, and I ain’t just average.”
The Redskins’ pass defense notably held Julio Jones in check, with the dynamic wide receiver finishing with 67 yards on five catches — none of which were made in the first half.
Jones, who began the season by gaining more than 100 receiving yards in each of his first three games, was at one point on pace to surpass the Detroit Lions’ Calvin Johnson for the single-season receiving record.
A hamstring injury that slowed him in a victory over the Houston Texans last week appeared to also be a factor on Sunday. On the Falcons’ fifth play from scrimmage — his fourth, and only the second in which he ran a route — Jones appeared tentative, with Ryan’s pass sailing just over his head and into the arms of Redskins strong safety Trenton Robinson for an interception.
The Falcons lined up Jones opposite Blackmon for much of the first half, but he was unsuccessful in creating a mismatch. On one play, a first-and-5 from the Falcons’ own 40-yard line, Blackmon jammed Jones at the line of scrimmage, then broke up a pass from Ryan on a slant route with his right hand.
Washington bracketed Jones for significant stretches of the game, giving Breeland, Blackmon and, at times, free safety Kyshoen Jarrett, who again filled in as the nickelback, the comfort of having help when needed. Jones, who recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown in the third quarter, made his biggest impact late, when he caught passes for 16 and 12 yards on the Falcons’ final drive.
“I think we did a good job of keeping [him in check],” free safety Dashon Goldson said. “We know who he is across this league, so we wanted to do a good job eliminating him from the game plan, forcing other guys to beat us.”
Aiding the secondary was a pass rush that, until last week’s victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, had been otherwise stagnant. Ryan, sacked three times, did not consistently have the time in the pocket needed to find his receivers for large gains downfield.
With that aspect removed, the Falcons’ asset was their rushing game. Running back Devonta Freeman, who finished with 153 yards and a touchdown, was the first player to gain more than 100 rushing yards on Washington all season.
Breeland acknowledged that without making stops in the running game, the Redskins weren’t going to be able to win. With regards to the pass defense, though, he said they accomplished their goal.
“Our mindset was to come out and be aggressive, no matter what,” Breeland said. “Ain’t nobody thought we was gonna come out there and do that. Thought we’d be scared and back off. But, our mentality was to go at them pretty hard and play physical.”