LANDOVER, Md. — Robert Griffin III isn't the type of quarterback to run out of bounds, and Sean Weatherspoon knew it. The Falcons linebacker kept up the pursuit and went for the tackle. His upper body rammed into the helmet of the rookie who doesn't shy from contact.
Griffin was down and done. A mild concussion, according to Redskins coach Mike Shanahan. On a day in which the Falcons' usually powerful offense was a bit out of synch, the defense had made a play that changed the game.
Matt Ryan went on to lead three scoring drives in the fourth quarter Sunday, scraping together enough points for a 24-17 win that gave the Falcons their first 5-0 start in franchise history.
"I felt like he was still turning upfield, so I was just trying to make a play," Weatherspoon said. "Most quarterbacks would probably slide out of bounds or run out of bounds, but he's a tough guy."
The clean hit turned third and goal from the 3 to fourth and goal from the 5 during the third quarter. The Redskins kicked a field goal for a 10-7 lead, and Griffin's replacement, rookie Kirk Cousins, made one big play in his NFL debut, a 77-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss that put Washington in front one more time early in the fourth quarter.
But, otherwise, the post-Griffin section of the game belonged to the Falcons. Julio Jones got both feet inbounds on an 18-yard TD catch just beyond the pylon. Former Buc Matt Bryant stayed perfect on the year with a 53-yard field goal. Michael Turner ran 13 yards for the go-ahead score with 2:46 left. Cousins was intercepted twice in the last two minutes.
The Falcons, mistakes and all, are the only unbeaten in the NFC.
"I don't know why you want to ask me any questions," Atlanta receiver Roddy White joked as he stood at his locker. "We stunk it up in early in the game."
The Falcons didn't score until the final minute of the first half, but Ryan kept throwing. He was 34-for-52 for 345 yards with two touchdowns and one interception — a screen picked off by linebacker Ryan Kerrigan and run back 28 yards for the game's first score. Ryan also fumbled away a snap, Atlanta's first lost fumble of the season.
Ryan guided Atlanta to his 18th career winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime. That is the most by a QB in his first five seasons in the Super Bowl era.
Tony Gonzalez caught 13 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown. His 99th career TD tied Don Hutson for eighth all time.
Griffin didn't have a designed run play Sunday. He was hurt while scrambling because he couldn't find an open receiver.
Team spokesman Tony Wyllie said Griffin was examined by an independent neurologist before being sent home from the stadium and will be evaluated today.
"When he wasn't really sure what the score was, what quarter it was, we knew he had a mild concussion," Shanahan said.
About three hours after the game, Griffin tweeted: "I'm ok and I think after all the testing I will play next week."