ATLANTA - T.J. Duckett had the Georgia Dome rocking as he ran for his second touchdown early in the second quarter.
Unfortunately for the Atlanta Falcons, reality had yet to sink in.
For all the suggestions that Atlanta couldn't win without superstar quarterback Michael Vick, the Falcons played as poorly on defense as they did on offense in losing 33-31 to the Washington Redskins on Sunday afternoon.
"I guess Atlanta forgot there are four quarters in a game," Washington free safety Matt Bowen said. "Their players were talking smack, and their fans were making noise, and guess who won the game?"
The numbers were staggeringly bad after Duckett's second score gave the Falcons a 17-0 lead. Atlanta's offense had seven net yards on 10 plays in the third quarter. Overall, the Falcons converted just one of 11 third-down opportunities.
Laveranues Coles justified his team-record $13 million signing bonus with career highs in catches (11) and yards (180). Peerless Price, who received a $10.5 million signing bonus, all but disappeared.
His two catches for 28 yards were bad enough, but Johnson made it worse by badly overthrowing Price on a pass that Bowen intercepted at the Washington 6 with 4:32 remaining.
Redskins quarterback Patrick Ramsey, though, was the player most responsible for quieting the crowd of 70,241 fans. The Falcons (1-1) hounded the former Tulane standout with five sacks in the first half, including consecutive series early in the second quarter that ended with fumbles forced by Matt Stewart and Sam Rogers and recovered by Ed Jasper and Patrick Kerney, respectively.
Ramsey exposed faults in the Atlanta defense with quick, three-step drops, which ultimately opened up passing lanes across the secondary.
Ramsey completed 22 of his last 31 passes for 321 yards and two touchdowns. Left-side cornerback Ray Buchanan allowed both scores. Rod Gardner's 21-yard catch in the right corner of the end zone tied the score at 24-24 in the third quarter, and Coles caught the game-breaking 19-yarder in the left corner of the end zone early in the fourth.
"In the second half, they did a real good job of max-protecting and running two-man routes," Buchanan said. "So we just have to fight through it. We can't blame the defense that's called. We can't blame nothing. We've got to find a way."
Gardner set a career high with nine catches, and his 118 yards receiving came on a flurry of slants, crossing routes and deep sideline patterns.
"Once you get a feel for them starting to do the three-step drop and keeping those blockers in there, I think you've got to change up your techniques," Atlanta cornerback Tyrone Williams said. "I think we did a good job. There were just some holes in our defense."
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was without either starting safety as Keion Carpenter and Cory Hall nursed injuries they could return from next week against defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay. Like the rest of the secondary, their replacements, Kevin McCadam and Gerald McBurrows, were helpless as Atlanta's pass rush disappeared.
"We put them in man-to-man situations a lot, and when you're 17 points ahead you don't want to give up a big play," Phillips said. "We were getting to him when they were max-protecting, and that's really what happened. They kept max-protecting, and we didn't get to him as much for whatever reason."
Johnson's afternoon fell apart, too. He completed just 11 of his last 24 attempts for 104 yards. His second touchdown, covering 42 yards to Jimmy Farris, ended the scoring with 2:22 remaining, but his first interception, coming midway through the second quarter, began his unraveling.
Looking for tight end Alge Crumpler on the right sideline, Johnson instead watched as strong safety Ifeanyi Ohalete stepped in front of the pass and returned it 30 yards to the 1. Fullback Rock Cartwright's 1-yard score cut the lead to 17-14 midway through the second quarter.
The Redskins (2-0) took their first lead near the end of the third as linebacker Jessie Armstead sacked Johnson for a safety.
"You have to realize that my back's to the O-line when I make the fake," Johnson said. "When I turned around, the guy was right there at my throat. I don't even know who it was or where he came from. My main thing at that point was just to hold onto the ball."
He managed to do that, but not much else.
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