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Falcons have found a rushing attack

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – When the going got tough with quarterback Matt Ryan misfiring and Julio Jones out of sync, the Falcons leaned on second-year running back Devonta Freeman’s 5-foot-8 shoulders to carry the offense to improve to 5-0.

Now they’ll have to do a quick turnaround and get ready for arch-rival New Orleans in a Thursday Night Football showdown in the Big Easy.

Freeman made this third straight start and was again dominant with 197 all-purpose yards and a touchdown in the Falcons’ 25-19 overtime win over the Washington Redskins on Sunday.

In his first three starts in the NFL, Freeman has amassed 191, 149 and now 197 all-purpose yards from scrimmage.

“That’s my mentality,” Freeman said of getting the majority of the carries. “I’m a running back. I came into the league to be the workhorse, to be the pounder, to run the ball, make people miss, catch the ball out of the backfield, block, everything. I’m very comfortable being the workhorse. I just want some more.”

Falcons wide receiver Roddy White credited Freeman’s play for securing the team’s fifth win.

“Devonta played lights out today,” White said. “He kept us in the game.”

Falcons coach Dan Quinn became the first rookie coach in franchise history to start off 5-0.

“Well I think for us, it’s just a real clear demonstration of how hard the guys all want to play for one another,” Quinn said. “We try to stay in the present moment as often as we can so we’ll get right back to it tomorrow. I think it shows a lot of the character, and the toughness of the men in the room.

“I know they want to keep battling for it. We feel like we’ve got a long way to go, in terms of how good we’ll get. It’s just early for us still and we recognize that. The next challenge will be right at hand again.”

Freeman rushed for 153 yards on 27 carries, a 5.7-yard average. Tevin Coleman, who returned after missing two weeks with a broken rib, carried just two times for 3 yards.

“It was really the hot hand,” Quinn said. “I thought Devonta just kept battling for it. He felt fresh going through, so sometimes that’ll happen too. We’re excited about where Tevin’s headed. Although he didn’t get the touches that we maybe thought going in, sometimes the game just works out that way. When you’re feeling it, you just have to keep going in that way.”

After having an apparent touchdown reception called back with less than a minute remaining, Freeman scored on a 6-yard run over right end with 30 seconds left.

Officials ruled that although Freeman broke the plane of the end zone on the reception, he did not control it through the ground.

“They stole one from us,” Freeman said. “I’m still mad right now. We got even.”

Quinn agreed with the call.

“Yes, it’s totally accurate,” Quinn said. “You’ve got to complete the act of the catch, after the catch happens. When the ball came loose on the ground, it just didn’t complete the act of the catch, so it’s really clear for us. We knew when that happened that may be the case.

“That’s one we can for sure learn from, and one that we’ll watch tomorrow just to re-emphasize that when it’s there you have to complete the act of the catch all the way through the ground.”

In the past three games, Freeman has rushed for 362 yards and seven touchdowns. He also has 177 receiving yards.

The 205-pound Freeman seems the perfect fit for the Falcons’ zone-blocking scheme.

“I get the ball and I’m thinking touchdown every play,” Freeman said.

REPORT CARD VS. REDSKINS

–PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus. Quarterback Matt Ryan has had better days. Ryan completed 24 of 42 passes for 254 yards and finished with a 55.1 passer rating. It was Ryan’s worst passing rated game since he had a 48.6 in Week 2 against Cincinnati last season. It was Ryan’s lowest passer rating in a victory during his pro career. The Falcons beat Tampa Bay 13-10 on Dec. 14, 2009 when he had a 57.5 passer rating. Ryan was off, but there were too many dropped passes. Julio Jones had two and tight end Jacob Tamme had one. Jones and Tamme were targeted 10 times. Tamme caught eight for 94 yards. Jones only caught five of his targets for 67 yards. Roddy White had two catches off four targets for 23 yards. He had a clutch grab on third down. The Falcons need to get White more involved in the passing game.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: A-minus. Devonta Freeman carried the offense, but was loose with the ball in the red zone. He had a fumble and didn’t secure the catch after breaking the plane. Tevin Coleman returned to the action with 3 yards on two carries. Freeman averaged 5.7 yards per carry. With Freeman’s rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter, he became the first player with eight or more rushing touchdowns in a team’s first five games of a season since LaDainian Tomlinson (nine) and Shaun Alexander (eight) in 2005. The Falcons’ 176 rushing yards were the highest rushing total the offense has recorded since Week 17 of 2011 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (251 rushing yards). Freeman forced five missed tackles, which tied for the third most amongst running backs in Week 5. Freeman’s 5.7 yards per carry average tied for fourth most of any running back in Week 5.

–PASS DEFENSE: B-minus. The pass rush didn’t produce much. Linebacker Nate Stupar had the only sack. Vic Beasley received his third straight negative grade from profootballfocus.com, but he did have two quarterback hurries. The defensive backs had four penalties. Desmond Trufant had two defensive holding calls (one was declined). Alford had a 42-yard defensive pass interference call. The Falcons held Washington’s Pierre Garcon to three catches. Alford big interception save the day.

–RUSH DEFENSE: A. The Falcons shut down Washington vaunted rushing attack, which was tops in the league and was averaging at 139.5 yards per game. The Falcons held Matt Jones to 20 yards rushing on 11 carries. Alfred Morris was held to 15 yards on eight carries. The Redskins had 51 yards on 24 carries for very strong 2.1 yards per carry. Middle linebacker Paul Worrilow led the Falcons with nine tackles.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: D. Matt Bryant, missed two straight field goals against the Redskins. Bryant snapped a streak of 14 straight makes dating back to last season. Matt Bosher had one punt that went 51 yards, 41 net.

–COACHING: B-minus. The Falcons have yet to put together four quarters of football. They have kept four games close and pulled them out with some late-game heroics. Quinn was a little shaky at the end of the first half with his clock management. The Falcons had to settle for a field-goal attempt that hit the right upright. The Falcons also left the Redskins too much time on the clock at the end of regulation. The Skins used the 24 seconds to come down and force overtime. Also, the Falcons need to get Roddy White some passes. A scheme that doesn’t account for a four-time Pro Bowl until the fourth quarter is bizarre. A former NFL player confirmed that White has been open on several plays, but Ryan’s progression has taken him in other directions like to Nick Williams on a deep pass in the second quarter. Coaches Bobby Turner (running backs) and Chris Morgan (offensive line) have their units playing great.


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