LANDOVER, Md. — After running all over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday afternoon to live up to what has become their offensive identity, the Washington Commanders got one last crucial play from their stout defense to preserve another important victory.
Kendall Fuller intercepted Marcus Mariota in the end zone with 58 seconds left after the pass was tipped by Daron Payne, and the Commanders held on for a 19-13 triumph, their sixth win in seven games.
"We come in every day and work hard for each other, and we have fun doing it," said Taylor Heinicke, who threw two touchdown passes and improved to 5-1 since replacing Carson Wentz as the starting quarterback. "The defense came up huge there at the end, and Kendall just keeps making those plays."
Fuller, who returned an interception for a touchdown in a win against the Houston Texans a week earlier, credited Payne with making this pick happen. Mariota and the Falcons did the same.
"You've got to give credit to Washington: They made a play at the end," Atlanta coach Arthur Smith said. "Thought we had the look we wanted, and the guy tipped the ball up and they caught it. Unfortunately that's the way it went."
Payne started running off the field after Fuller caught Mariota's pass, figuring the game was over. The Falcons would have gotten the ball back, but Ade Ogundeji ran into Commanders punter Tress Way with 32 seconds left to send Washington (7-5) to its best record through 12 games since 2008.
"When you work hard, when you play hard, good things will happen," said coach Ron Rivera, who earned his 100th NFL win counting the regular season and playoffs.
Rivera said the rainy weather didn't change his team's approach. Playing to each team's strength on offense regardless of the conditions, the Commanders and Falcons were content to keep the ball on the ground and take some shots throwing it.
Washington ran 37 times for 176 yards to Atlanta's 29 for 167. Not counting Heinicke, the Commanders used five ball carriers, though no one got it more than rookie Brian Robinson Jr, who ran 18 times for a career-high 105 yards and averaged 5.8 yards per rush three months after being shot twice in an attempted armed robbery.
The former Alabama standout also caught Heinicke's first touchdown pass, getting into the end zone on a 14-yard play by bulldozing cornerback Darren Hall.
"Today was a good day on the ground," Robinson said. "Probably because of the wet ball, we handed the ball off a lot more. I felt like the offensive line did a great job getting movement up front, moving on to the second level and just allowing me to get up on 'backers and finish."
Heinicke also found tight end John Bates in the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown and finished 14-of-23 for 138 yards but was intercepted by Mykal Walker.
"It was a bonehead decision," Heinicke said. "I just threw it right to the guy. It was an awful decision."
Olamide Zaccheaus had a game-high five catches and 91 receiving yards for the Falcons (5-7), who got field goals of 47 and 48 yards from Younghoe Koo, the latter to pull within 16-13 late in the third quarter. Washington's Joey Slye made a 45-yarder with 9:05 to play, and the teams traded three-and-out possessions before Atlanta's 10-play, 80-yard drive ended with Mariota's interception.
While the Commanders bolstered their hopes of earning an NFC wild-card playoff spot, Atlanta (5-7) has now lost three of its past four games despite surpassing 100 yards on the ground for the 10th consecutive game.
"It is tough," said Mariota, who was 15-of-25 for 174 yards and a 4-yard touchdown pass to MyCole Pruitt for a 10-7 lead midway through the second quarter. "These games as you're progressing through the season get bigger and bigger. Unfortunately we didn't pull this one out, but at the same time we've got to bounce back and get ready for Pittsburgh."
The Steelers visit Atlanta next Sunday.
Despite their latest defeat, the Falcons can hold to hope in a weak division. In the NFC South, the first-place Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-6) remain within reach after losing 23-17 in overtime to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. The Carolina Panthers (4-8) and New Orleans Saints (4-8) are behind Atlanta.