Falcons starters impress in preseason loss to Titans


For all 32 NFL teams, the third preseason game is considered the dress rehearsal for the regular season. The starters normally play into the third quarter and they also have a game plan going into the game.

That was no different for the Falcons and even though they came up short against the Tennessee Titans on Saturday night at the Georgia Dome 24-17, head coach Mike Smith was pleased with the way his first-teamers played.

“I really liked the way we started tonight’s ball game,” Smith said. “The energy level was very good in terms of playing offense, defense and special teams.

One of the things Mike Smith has preached to his team since he became the Falcons head coach in 2008 is getting to a fast start. The Falcons offense was able to do that as they orchestrated an11-play, 79-yard drive which ended with a Matt Ryan 31-yard touchdown pass to Devin Hester.

“He did an unbelievable job for us tonight,” Ryan said when talking about Hester who led the Falcons with four receptions for 56 yards and one touchdown. “That’s something we’ve seen during training camp. I think everyone has been impressed. He showed what he’s capable of doing when he has the ball in his hands.”

Another player that showed what’s he able to do when the ball is in his hands is Julio Jones. The Alabama alum only had two receptions, but one reception was a 52-yard score that gave the Falcons the 14-3 lead early in the second quarter. The key to that play, though, was Harry Douglas able to get a block on a Titan defender that helped Jones go in for the touchdown.

“That was the key to the play,” Ryan said who threw for 224 yards and two scores. “Those are the kind of plays that win games. We have guys making effort plays to help a teammate out.”

As for the first-team defense, they were able to open the game with a three-and-out and only surrendered 33 yards rushing in the first half. But they did make one mistake late in the second quarter when Titans quarterback Jake Locker threw a 63-yard touchdown pass to Nate Washington to cut the Falcons lead to 17-10. Desmond Trufant was on the coverage, but Smith is quick to point out there was not just one person to blame for the play.

“We played a good first half except for the long play,” Smith said. “What you see out there when you don’t know what the call is, don’t put a culprit on it.”

While the first-teamers were able to do some good things in the first half, the reserves could not get anything going in the second half. Led by backup quarterback Zach Mettenberger and running back Bishop Sankey, the Titans scored 14 unanswered points in the second half into seal the victory. Part of the reason the reserves could not hang on to the lead is execution, but penalties also played a big role (10 penalties for 92 yards) in the Titans comeback and Smith is more worried about it as the preseason rolls on.

“We did not execute at all in the second half of the ball game,” Smith said. We had way too many penalties. That’s an area of concern and it has been all preseason.”

But the one good thing in the second half is the play of Sean Renfree who only played one series, but he was able to lead the offense to the Titans 4-yard line late in the fourth quarter and had a chance to potentially win the game for the Falcons. Renfree (who went 5-of-7 for 59 yards) is in a battle for the backup quarterback spot with T.J. Yates, but Smith said no position battles were won on Saturday night.

“I’ll have to watch the tape,” Smith said. “But there were some guys that made some very impressive plays out there on the field.”

The Falcons have one more preseason game as they travel to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars Thursday night. Kickoff is set at 6 p.m. After that, they will have nearly a week and a half to get ready for the season opener against the New Orleans Saints at the Georgia Dome. That kickoff time is set for 1 p.m. on Sept. 7.

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