The Atlanta Falcons defeated the Tennessee Titans in their home preseason opener by a score of 31-24, getting the Dan Quinn era off to a good start. The Falcons defense was energized by their new head coach, forcing three turnovers against the Titans, helping the team get off to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter.
The Falcons’ offensive starters were mostly limited to a single series, but made the most of it by driving down the field and scoring on their opening possession. Quarterback Matt Ryan completed all six of his pass attempts for 86 yards and a touchdown on that lone series. T.J. Yates got the majority of backup quarterback reps throughout the rest of the game before giving way to Sean Renfree in the fourth quarter. Yates struggled, finishing with 105 passing yards and an interception while completing nine of 15 passes. Renfree fared better by completing six of seven passes for 68 yards.
On the ground, the Falcons didn’t get much going. Jerome Smith led the team with 25 yards on seven carries, while Michael Ford added 20 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Antone Smith also scored, finishing the game with 18 yards on nine carries.
Julio Jones shined on the opening series, catching four passes for 61 yards and a score to lead the team in receiving. Justin Hardy (three catches, 41 yards), Levine Toilolo (three catches, 36 yards), Nick Williams (three catches, 36 yards) and Marquez Clark (three catches, 29 yards) also contributed as pass-catchers on the night.
Kicker Matt Bryant connected on his lone field-goal try of 45 yards. Matt Bosher punted three times for 133 yards, placing two of his punts inside the 20-yard line. Terron Ward had a pair of kickoff returns for 46 yards, while the Falcons had no punt returns on the night.
The Falcons fared well in the red zone, converting on three of their four trips into touchdowns. The team finished the game with 323 total yards and also converted half of their 10 third-down attempts. Yates’ interception was the team’s lone turnover, but they did have a pair of bad snaps that resulted in negative plays.
Defensively, the Falcons allowed 371 total yards to the Titans. The starters were able to keep the Titans starters under wraps for most of the early part of the game. The Titans converted six of nine third-down attempts (67 percent). But the Falcons were able to force three turnovers, including a pair of interceptions and a fumble, which they converted into 10 points.
Linebacker Derek Akunne led the team with eight tackles. He was joined by Joplo Bartu (four tackles), Kroy Biermann (two tackles, one forced fumble), Allen Bradford (four tackles), Justin Durant (one interception), Kemal Ishmael (three tackles), Tyson Jackson (two tackles, one sack), Akeem King (three tackles), Stansly Maponga (one tackle, one sack), Tyler Starr (three tackles), Robenson Therezie (one tackle, one interception) and Paul Worrilow (one tackle, one fumble recovery) as notable defensive standouts.
The game began with a 19-yard kickoff return by Ward being negated by a holding call on Nate Stupar, resulting in the Falcons starting their opening drive at their nine-yard line. But Ryan quickly connected with Jones on his first two pass attempts with the latter reception going for 26 yards and moving the Falcons to the 41-yard line. Two plays later on 3rd-and-6, Ryan hit Leonard Hankerson for a 13-yard gain to get the ball into Titans territory with a new set of downs. Ryan hit fullback Patrick DiMarco two plays later on a 12-yard throw into the flat and then found Jones once more for a 16-yard gain to get the ball to the Titans 14-yard line. After a one-yard run by Ward, Ryan dialed up Jones once more. Jones made Titans cornerback Perrish Cox miss on the tackle and ran in the end zone for a 13-yard score. The Falcons moved the ball 91 yards on 10 plays in slightly less than five minutes to start the game up 7-0.
The Titans tried to establish the run on their opening series, but saw very little room running against the Falcons front. Titans rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota did complete his first pass attempt to former Falcons receiver Harry Douglas for a 12-yard gain. Mariota’s third pass attempt fared poorly, with defensive tackle Paul Soliai providing the initial pressure that was cleaned up by Tyson Jackson for the sack. That set up a 2nd-and-21, where the Titans attempted a screen pass to running back Bishop Sankey. But Durant read the play perfectly, jumped the throw and picked it off, returning it 21 yards to the Titans’ nine-yard line to set up another Falcons possession with 6:25 left in the first quarter.
The Falcons inserted Yates into the game at quarterback, but his first pass was an errant one to Hankerson that fell incomplete in the turf. An offensive pass interference on Nick Williams two plays later pushed the Falcons back to the 16-yard line for a 3rd-and-goal. But a bad snap on center Mike Person aborted the play and Yates recovered at the Titans’ 27-yard line. That led to a Bryant field goal of 45 yards, extending Atlanta’s lead to 10-0 with five minutes remaining in the opening quarter.
On 3rd-and-6 on the Titans’ next drive, Mariota dropped back to pass but pressure from Jonathan Babineaux led to the ball slipping out of his hands on the wind up. Worrilow scooped up the loose ball and ran 14 yards into the end zone for a defensive touchdown, extending Atlanta’s lead to 17-0 with 3:22 left in the first quarter.
Wanting their rookie quarterback to end on a positive note, the Titans got their wish on the subsequent drive with Mariota leading the team on a 10-play scoring drive to close out the first quarter. Mariota completed all five of his pass attempts for 78 yards against the Falcons’ second-team defense, including a pair of third-down conversions to Douglas for 17 yards and running back Antonio Andrews for 26 yards, where they beat Jalen Collins and Joplo Bartu, respectively. Running back Dexter McCluster capped off the drive, running untouched into the end zone for a six-yard score to put the Titans on the board with 13:06 left in the first half.
Antone Smith opened the next series by taking the first three plays for a total of 11 yards, including a conversion on 3rd-and-1 on a two-yard gain. On Smith’s fourth carry, Justin Hardy was flagged for offensive holding, setting up a 1st-and-20. Yates was sacked by defensive tackle Karl Klug on the next play. Two plays later on 3rd-and-15, Yates attempted a deep pass to Hankerson, who drew a pass interference penalty on cornerback Coty Sensabaugh giving the Falcons a new set of downs at the Titans’ 44-yard line. But on that next play, Yates’ pass to Hardy over the middle was low and the Falcons rookie receiver couldn’t make the sliding catch. The ball bounced from Hardy’s hands into those of Sensabaugh, redeeming himself for the penalty with an interception and the Titans took over at their 40-yard line with 9:25 left in the second quarter.
Zach Mettenberger took over at quarterback for the Titans, hitting on his first pass to Justin Hunter for a 13-yard gain to get the ball into Falcons territory. Mettenebrger converted a 3rd-and-3 on a six-yard throw to tight end Phillip Supernaw two plays later. Antonio Andrews took his third carry of the drive for five yards before Mettenberger hit wide receiver Rico Richardson on a crossing pattern, beating Collins for a 30-yard score. Collins managed to strip Richardson upon crossing the goal line, but the refs upheld the original call of a touchdown. Ryan Succop’s 33-yard extra point sailed wide right, and the scoreboard read 17-13 in the Falcons favor with 5:34 left in the second quarter.
Yates began to look a little sharper, hitting Toilolo on a 21-yard pass on a rollout to get the ball into Titans territory on the second play of the ensuing drive. However, his next pass three plays later on 3rd-and-6 was an overthrow to Tony Moeaki along the sideline. However the Titans were called for 12 men on the field penalty, setting up a 4th-and-1. The Falcons opted to go for it, with Yates hitting Williams on another rollout for an eight-yard gain. Yates connected on his next two passes to Hardy and Williams for a combined 31 yards, with the latter’s 18-yard catch getting the ball down to the one-yard line. Antone Smith was stopped trying to dive in the end zone on the ensuing run to the right, and came up hobbled on the play. But the officials reviewed the play, and ruled that Smith managed to reach the ball across the plane for a touchdown, pushing Atlanta’s lead to 24-13 with 1:37 left in the half.
To start the next Titans series, Mettenberger connected with rookie receiver Dorial Green-Beckham on a jump ball for 32 yards over Falcons cornerback Dezmen Southward. Two plays later, Mettenberger attempted another deep pass to Justin Hunter, who had Collins beat. But Collins broke up the pass, tipping it to Therezie, who returned it 12 yards to the Falcons’ 17-yard line.
Yates attempted five passes on the ensuing drive, completing three of them for 29 yards, failing to convert on a third-down throw to Hardy, forcing the first punt of the game with 26 seconds left in the first half. Afterwards, Mettenberger knelt on the ball to end the first half, with the Falcons retained their 24-13 lead.
Titans rookie running back David Cobb started the second half in impressive fashion, ripping off a pair of eight-yard runs to start the opening series. He then followed that up three more runs for a combined 19 yards to get the ball into Falcons territory. Mettenberger failed to connect on his next two passes, with Falcons safety Charles Godfrey breaking up one and the Titans quarterback overthrowing the other. But ex-Falcons tight end Chase Coffman converted on 3rd-and-10 with a 15-yard catch on the very next play. Coffman made another grab two plays for a 27-yard gain to put the ball at the Falcons’ three-yard line. After a two-yard run by Cobb, Andrews finished off the drive with a one-yard score followed by a successful two-point conversion run to cut the Falcons’ lead to 24-21 with less than eight minutes to go in the third quarter.
The Falcons had a three-and-out on their next series thanks in large part due to a bad snap on the part of center Peter Konz on 3rd-and-7 resulting in a loss of 20 yards, as Yates tried to scoop up the loose ball and run it to no avail. After Bosher’s punt, the Titans took over at their 46-yard line.
Charlie Whitehurst entered the game at quarterback for the Titans, connecting on his first pass to Andrew Turzilli for a 54-yard touchdown but the play was nullified by an offensive pass interference call on the undrafted rookie receiver. Yet despite the missed score, Whitehurst still managed to hit on his next four passes for a combined 35 yards to get the ball into the red zone. However the Falcons defense stood tough, thanks to Akunne stopping Jacoby Ford for a four-yard gain on 3rd-and-7 at the 14-yard line. The Titans settled for a 28-yard field goal from Succop, tying the game at 24-24 with 16 seconds left in the third quarter.
Sean Renfree entered the game for the final play of the third quarter, which was a seven-yard rush by Jerome Smith. Renfree connected on his next three passes for a combined 37 yards to get the ball into Titans territory, with Hardy gaining 22 yards on the last throw. Michael Ford stepped in at running back, but gained no yardage on his first two carries. Renfree converted a 3rd-and-10 on a throw to Marquez Clark for a 13-yard gain. After a pair of runs by Ford, Renfree connected to Clark again for a nine-yard gain that put the ball at the two-yard line. Renfree couldn’t hit Clark a third time on the series on 1st-and-goal, but Ford powered his way up the middle two plays later on a one-yard score to give Atlanta the lead once more 31-24 with 7:35 left in the game.
Alex Tanney stepped in at quarterback for the Titans, completing a 32-yard throw to Supernaw to put the ball in Falcons territory on the next drive. But he was sacked three plays later by Maponga, who powered his way into the pocket for the three-yard loss on 3rd-and-4. That resulted in the Titans’ lone punt of the game, a 41-yard touchback by Brett Kern, but was pushed back 10 more yards thanks to a holding call on Falcons cornerback Michael Lee. The Falcons were set to start their next series at their 10-yard line with 3:45 left in the game.
Ford and Jerome Smith alternated for the remainder of the game as the Falcons looked to run out the clock. A horse-collar penalty on Titans defensive tackle Angelo Blackson after a four-yard run by Ford gave the Falcons a brand new set of downs with less than three minutes to go. Smith broke off the right side for a 12-yard gain two plays later to get the time down to the two-minute warning. Ford ripped off a nine-yard run to set up a pair of short-yardage plays which the Falcons failed to convert. With 26 seconds left, Bosher punted for the third and final time on the game. On the final play of the game, Tanney’s pass to Cobb was stopped for a one-yard gain thanks to a solid, open-field tackle by Falcons cornerback Kevin White.
The Falcons will travel to New York to take on the Jets next week on August 21.