During a year when little has gone right, it was too much for Washington Redskins fans to ask. To survive seven turnovers, drive 80 yards for the potential tying score during the final minute and nail the two-point conversion might well have sent the earth spinning off its axis.
In the end, normalcy for the 2013 Redskins prevailed as quarterback Kirk Cousins' pass attempt fell incomplete on the conversion attempt and the Redskins fell to 3-11 with a 27-26 loss at Atlanta Dec. 15.
"I thought our team fought like heck," head coach Mike Shanahan said. "I told them in the locker room. I don't think I've been involved with a team that's had seven turnovers and had a chance to win it. So I'm very pleased with the effort that we've shown, disappointed in some of the mistakes that we made."
Washington had a chance to tie the game after Cousins hit wide receiver Santana Moss with a 3-yard touchdown pass with 18 seconds left, but Shanahan opted to go for the win. Cousins rolled right and tried to find receiver Pierre Garçon in the back of the end zone, but Atlanta cornerback Desmond Trufant deflected the pass, and it fell incomplete.
"I was down there with the official," Shanahan said. "I thought if we had the right defense and the right play, we were going to stick with it. And we thought we did, and unfortunately it didn't work out. If we didn't get the right defense, I was going to call a timeout down there and just kick it."
Redskins kicker Kai Forbath followed the failed conversion attempt with an onside kick, and teammate Reed Doughty appeared to get a hand on it, but the Falcons (4-10) recovered, ensuring Washington's sixth straight loss.
Cousins, making his first start of the season in place of Robert Griffin III, completed 29 of 45 pass attempts for 381 yards and three touchdowns -- all career highs. He also threw two interceptions and a lost fumble.
"Didn't do enough to win," Cousins said. "Two interceptions that were on me, a fumble that you don't want to have, the two-point conversion -- I think that was on me. Those are four plays there that if they go differently, it's probably a much better result."
Cousins' interceptions led to 10 second-half points for Atlanta, while Washington was scoreless during the second half until the final drive. There, Cousins was sharp, completing 10 of 13 passes, including a 14-yarder to wide receiver Aldrick Robinson on third-and-4 at the Redskins' 26 and an 11-yarder to Robinson on third-and-6 from the 44.
"It's the first time he's been playing in a while," Shanahan said of Cousins. "It's nice to see him go out there with a lot of confidence. I thought he kept his composure and came back there in that final drive, did a heck of a job leading the team down the field. Proud of the way he handled himself."
Garçon had seven catches for 129 yards, and running back Alfred Morris rushed 18 times for 98 yards, but both took part in the team's charitable giving as Morris fumbled twice and Garçon fumbled once and muffed a punt.
"Guys that normally don't turn the ball over turned it over on one day," Shanahan said. "You can't win with turnovers. Those guys are normally great with ball security."
Overall, Redskins turnovers led to 20 points for the Falcons, who began four drives inside the Washington 40.
Washington led, 20-17, at intermission and appeared to get a boost from its defense when linebacker Perry Riley stonewalled Atlanta running back Steven Jackson on fourth-and-goal from inside the 1 on the opening drive of the third quarter.
The joy was short-lived, as Cousins dropped back into his own end zone on the next play. Cousins threw behind his receiver over the middle, and Falcons safety William Moore intercepted the ball at the 16. He returned it to the 2; Jackson scored on the next play; and the Falcons led, 24-20.
The defense held Atlanta to a field goal after Cousins' second interception, making it 27-20 when Washington began its final drive.
"I thought our defense did an outstanding job of continuing to bail us out," Cousins said.
After piling up 320 yards during the first half, the Redskins managed 156 during the second, 80 of which came on the last possession.
The Redskins trailed, 14-0, after Atlanta scored on its first two possessions, sandwiched around a fumble by Cousins.
Washington answered, going 80 yards in six plays. After Morris ripped off a 37-yard run to the Falcons' 23, Cousins rolled right and found tight end Fred Davis for the touchdown. It was Davis' first score since 2011.
"I was hoping he would get it there, and he did," Davis said during an interview on Comcast Sports Net. "He floated it right there, and it was an easy catch."
Atlanta made it 17-7 after recovering a loose ball after a punt bounced and hit Moss.
Washington lost four fumbles during the first half, including two as part of a sequence when the teams traded fumble on three consecutive plays.
Midway through the quarter, Cousins and Garçon pulled the Redskins to within three. With solid protection from his line, Cousins waited while Garçon ran a stop-and-go and hit his receiver in stride behind the defense for a 53-yard score.
"I continued to throw to open receivers," Cousins said, "and that's because [offensive coordinator] Kyle [Shanahan] was calling plays that were perfect for what they were doing. Our receivers caught the ball, did a great job of advancing the ball after the catch. And the offensive line gave me time to progress."
Washington added a pair of field goals -- the second coming after defensive back Jose Gumbs' first-career interception -- to take a 20-17 lead into the locker room.