Lined up opposite one of the top cover corners in the game, Desmond Trufant is third-year man Robert Alford. Entering Sunday’s home matchup with Washington, Alford, the Atlanta Falcons No. 2 cornerback had no interceptions through four games this season.
That all changed as Alford took advantage of two errant throws by Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins, recording two interceptions in the process, with the second one serving as the game-winner.
In a back and forth battle where the visiting Redskins didn’t go away, the Falcons defense stepped up when it needed to most in the end.
Facing a 2nd-and-8 at midfield on the opening drive of overtime, Cousins dropped back looking for wide receiver Ryan Grant. Grant slipped on the play, and Alford lunged towards the ball, kept his feet in bounds near the far sideline and proceeded to scamper home for the game-winning 59-yard interception return for a touchdown. Linebacker Nate Stupar pressured Cousins on the play to force a quick throw.
“I trusted my instincts and the film study,” Alford told ESPN. “I just jumped it, and it was there for me to make a play on. I looked back to see who was around me, and once there was nobody around me, it was off to the end zone.”
Alford said his defensive group all believed that it was going to be one of them that was going to end this game. The Southeastern Louisiana product was sure right.
His first big play of the day came back in the second quarter with Washington ahead on the scoreboard 7-3. On a 3rd-and-10, Alford intercepted Cousins on a pass intended deep down the left sideline for Pierre Garcon.
Following that pick, the teams combined for three missed field goals, two punts, a fumble and a field goal before Atlanta finally scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
It wasn’t Matt Ryan’s day, as Washington intercepted him twice, and he lost a fumble, but he stayed resilient as his biggest throw of the afternoon came on a 4th-and-2 with just 46 seconds left. He found Roddy White for the first down and then moments later running back Devonta Freeman went in for his second touchdown of the game.
The Falcons trailed 16-12 prior to that score largely due to a Ryan pick that led to three points and a bad pass interference call on Alford.
Yes, Alford made one mistake that nearly cost them Atlanta the game early in the fourth quarter. On a pass deep down the middle of the field intended for speedster Rashad Ross, Alford was flagged for a 42-yard pass interference call. Washington’s running back Matt Jones scored from two yards out to put the Redskins ahead 13-12 for the moment.
“You saw how he responded (to the penalty),” Falcons safety William Moore told AtlantaFalcons.com. “That’s what kind of guy he is.”
It’s truly remarkable that Alford continued to stay focused in this game after he could have easily let that tough penalty get to him mentally. All in all, the Falcons pass defense did a nice job at slowing down Cousins and the Redskins passing game as they generated 219 yards through the air with Cousins posting a 69.7 passer rating.
Alford had five interceptions in 26 games coming into Sunday. His interceptions were clutch especially the game-winning return for a score in overtime. Those are the types of plays that separate the elite teams from the rest of the league.
At 5-0, the Falcons reach that mark for just the second time since joining the NFL in 1966. The other 5-0 start came in 2012. Under defensive-minded head coach Dan Quinn, the sky is the limit for this Atlanta team that travels to face a reeling New Orleans Saints team on Thursday night.