- The Washington Times - Monday, October 12, 2015

ATLANTA — Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden did not sugarcoat the team’s 25-19 overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

The Redskins needed just three plays to go 46 yards with 24 seconds remaining in regulation to set up Dustin Hopkins’ 52-yard tying field goal. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was calm and confident on the final drive after a game in which a few of his throws were off target.

Then came defeat. Cousins’ overtime pass intended for wide receiver Ryan Grant landed in the hands of Falcons cornerback Robert Alford, who returned it 59 yards for the win.

“We are beyond that,” coach Jay Gruden said when asked if there was anything positive he could take from pushing the 5-0 Falcons to overtime.

“They are an excellent, tough football team at home. They played very hard, we played very hard, it came down to a close game and you don’t get any moral victories in the NFL. I feel like we are right there as a football team, and can compete with anybody, and we’re sick no matter who we lose to.”

For the second consecutive game, the Redskins showed grit in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. They were able to go on a 15-play, 90-yard drive last week to beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 23-20.

After another comeback, this week ended with a biting defeat. The Redskins (2-3) continue to make improvements, but they are not over the threshold just yet.

With that, here are three keys from the Redskins‘ loss.

** The Redskins‘ defense made it work with a patchwork secondary against the Falcons’ high-powered offense, but had its worst performance of the season against the run. They allowed Falcons running back Devonta Freeman to rack up 153 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries, including 40 yards in the fourth quarter and a six-yard touchdown with 30 seconds remaining.

The defense was gassed by the end of the game and it showed on the Falcons’ last drive during regulation. Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, who finished the game 24-for-42, completed six of eight passes on the Falcons’ final drive before Freeman’s touchdown. The fact that the Redskins still had a chance to win the game despite Freeman’s performance speaks to how well they defended against the pass.

** Rookie wide receiver Jamison Crowder is quickly becoming a reliable outlet in the passing game. For the second consecutive week, Crowder had a big impact. On Sunday, Crowder caught all eight of his targets for a team-high 87 yards — averaging 10.9 yards per catch. When the speedy receiver gets the ball in his hands, he’s tough to tackle.

With the Redskins facing third-and-10, Crowder turned what looked like was going to be a minimal gain into a 14-yard pickup, and was a step away from turning it into a touchdown. Last week, the Redskins benched wide receiver Andre Roberts and Crowder saw a game-high 12 targets, catching seven passes for 65 yards. Without DeSean Jackson and Jordan Reed on the field, Crowder made it so the Redskins did not have to rely solely on receiver Pierre Garcon.

** Washington committed five penalties for 51 yards on Sunday — certainly an improvement from last week, when it was flagged 10 times for 110 yards. The Redskins entered the game as the seventh-most penalized team in the NFL and it’s an area they’ve needed to improve all season.

Though it was better on Sunday, the Redskins need to be sharper at the start of games. On the second play of the game, Garcon’s 13-yard reception was wiped out by a Trent Williams hold. Last week, the Redskins committed two penalties on the first three plays, which erased a five-yard run and a four-yard run. Taking penalties is never a good thing, but it’s even more costly when it prevents the team from building momentum on the first drive

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