LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — Julio Jones set his sights on the end zone, twisted to break a tackle and lunged toward the promised land.
A swarm of teammates rushed over from the sideline, jumping around in jubilation to celebrate the end of the star receiver’s 12-game touchdown drought.
Jones was back in the end zone where he belongs, and the Atlanta Falcons looked like the team they were predicted to be in a 38-14 blowout of the Washington Redskins on Sunday that extended their winning streak to three games.
“We’re a brotherhood,” said Jones, who made seven receptions for 121 yards and caught his first TD pass since Nov. 26, 2017.
“We support one another. If anybody scores, I’m trying to be the first one over there. Nobody hates on each other on this team. Everybody loves when other people go out here and excel and make plays.”
The Falcons (4-4) made plenty of plays in flexing their offensive muscles with the kind of balanced attack they’ve lacked in an injury-marred season that so far has failed to live up to expectations. Matt Ryan completed 26 of 38 passes for 350 yards and four touchdowns, including the 35-yard screen to Jones that set off a team-wide celebration.
Even though losing four of its first five games didn’t give Atlanta much to celebrate, putting up 491 yards on Washington has players excited about their current position and what more they can accomplish this season.
“The start to the season was not what we were looking for, but we’re halfway through it, we’re 4-4 and we’re in the mix,” said Ryan, who had touchdown passes of 39 and 10 yards to running back Tevin Coleman and a 40-yarder to rookie receiver Calvin Ridley .
“The good football teams that I’ve been a part of in my career are the ones that have gotten better as the year’s gone along. Halfway through, I think we’re a better football team than we were at the start and we’ve got to keep it trending in that direction.”
Nowhere is that progress more evident than on the ground, where Coleman ran for 80 yards and Ito Smith had 66 yards and a rushing touchdown. The Falcons surpassed 100 yards rushing for the first time since Week 2.
“The big guys, they put the work in,” said coach Dan Quinn, whose team didn’t punt until midway through the third quarter and converted its first eight third-down opportunities. “We know we are at our best when both the run game and our pass game are in balance. And today we had that, and the results were there.”
Atlanta’s 30th-ranked defense did its part, too, holding Washington to 35 first-quarter yards and making a crucial stop after Ryan was picked off by Quinton Dunbar — just the quarterback’s third interception this season.
The NFC East-leading Redskins (5-3) could blame poor tackling, ill-timed penalties and a series of injuries along the offensive line for the end of their three-game winning streak.
Already without left tackle Trent Williams after surgery to repair his dislocated right thumb, Washington lost left guard Shaun Lauvao to a left knee injury, right guard Brandon Scherff to a left shoulder injury and struggled to stop the Falcons when it mattered.
“It wasn’t the preparation, just the executing,” Washington safety D.J. Swearinger said. “Got to be better. Got to be disciplined. Got to be disciplined in our efforts.”
Swearinger and other players blamed officials for part of the Redskins’ disciplinary trouble that added up to 10 penalties for 147 yards.
Adrian Peterson was held to 17 yards on nine carries a week after rushing for 149 yards at the New York Giants. Alex Smith was 30 of 46 for 306 yards, an interception and a touchdown pass to Josh Doctson.
KAZEE’S PICK AND THROW
Falcons safety Damontae Kazee effectively ended any chances of a Redskins comeback when he picked off Smith with about seven minutes left. After the play, Kazee ran toward the corner of the stadium full of Falcons fans and did his best Ryan impression by throwing the ball to the top of the lower deck.
Kazee said he was trying to get the ball to his nephew in that corner of the stands and isn’t worried about punishment.
“I get fined every week,” Kazee said. “I don’t care.”
As inconsequential as Washington’s ground game was, Smith had its longest gain of the day on a scramble that helped set up a touchdown. With Peterson blocking for him, the 34-year-old picked up 22 yards before being stopped on a crushing shoulder-to-shoulder hit from Brian Poole at the Atlanta 19.
Falcons: Calvin Ridley was cleared to return after being evaluated for a head injury. … K Matt Bryant missed his second consecutive game with a right hamstring injury, and CB Robert Alford was out with an ankle injury, the first game he has missed since 2015.
Redskins: Played stretches without three-fifths of their starting offensive line and lost Lauvao to a potentially serious knee injury. Lauvao injured his left knee on the third play of the game, was taken off the sideline in a wheelchair and did not return. RT Morgan Moses injured his right knee in the first quarter before returning in the second. Coach Jay Gruden said Lauvao and Scherff would have MRIs Monday. … Dunbar left twice with leg injuries. … TE Jordan Reed left briefly with a neck injury.
Falcons: Aim for their fourth win in a row when they visit the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
Redskins: Look to rebound at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.