Falcons Pull Out 16-10 Win Over Dolphins in Preseason Opener

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Ryan was nearly perfect in his lone series against the Dolphins

The Atlanta Falcons won their preseason opener in the Georgia Dome against the Miami Dolphins with a tightly-contested 16-10 victory. It halts the Falcons five-game preseason losing streak dating back to the summer of 2012, with their last win being over the Dolphins by a score of 23-6. It also marks the first time since 2010 that the Falcons have won their preseason opener.

Matt Ryan led the team and played only a single series. But he made the most of it, leading the Falcons on a scoring drive while completing all seven pass attempts for 53 yards. He later gave way to T.J. Yates, who completed seven of 16 passes for 127 yards. Sean Renfree also saw second-half action, completing six of 15 passes for 108 yards. On the ground, Devonta Freeman led the team in rushing with 50 yards on 10 carries. Jacquizz Rodgers added 20 yards and Atlanta’s lone touchdown on seven carries. Antone Smith also had an impressive game, although penalties wiped out two big plays of his, including a 76-yard scoring run. He finished with just five yards on his three carries. Roddy White got all of his work on the opening drive, leading the team with four receptions for 27 yards. Bernard Reedy led the team in receiving yards with 61 on a pair of catches. Freeman also had a single catch for 57 yards. Courtney Roby (two catches, 27 yards), Mickey Shuler (two catches, 23 yards), Levine Toilolo (two catches, 19 yards) and Maurice Hagens (two catches, 15 yards) also had notable contributions. The Falcons connected on all three of their field goal tries, with Matt Bryant hitting from 21 yards and Sergio Castillo connecting on kicks from 21 and 34 yards out. Matt Bosher punted four times for an average of 53 yards with one touchback. Castillo had a pair of punts for an average of 46.5 yards. Offensively, the Falcons were able to convert on eight of 17 third-down tries including all three attempts when the starters were in the game. The Falcons also finished with 372 total yards and had a relatively clean game with no turnovers. But they were penalized heavily nine penalties for a total of 82 yards.

Defensively, the Falcons did not look good on the opening drive against the Dolphins starters. They let Miami drive down the field on a 10-play, 73-yard drive for a touchdown. But otherwise, they put the clamps on the Dolphins reserves allowing just 229 total yards and conversions on just five of 14 third-down tries. They were also able to force a turnover which sealed the Falcons victory. Javier Arenas, along with Kimario McFadden, Sean Baker, Jonathan Massaquoi, Prince Shembo and Cliff Matthews tied for team-lead with three tackles each. Arenas added a pass breakup and a tackle for loss, while Baker also broke up a pass. Shembo had a sack and Massaquoi added a tackle for loss. Tim Dobbins (one tackle, one tackle for loss); Nosa Eguae (one tackle, one fumble recovery); Jordin Mabin (two tackles, one pass defended); Robert McClain (two tackles) and Paul Worrilow (two tackles) all had noteworthy games.

The Dolphins received the opening kickoff and were able to convert on a pair of 3rd-and-shorts to get into Falcons territory. Then Ryan Tannehill hit wide receiver Rishard Matthews on a 36-yard pass, beating zone coverage to get the ball to the Falcons 10-yard line. Two plays later, Tannehill found a wide open Brandon Gibson in the flat for a six-yard score to give Miami a 7-0 lead with 10 minutes left in the first quarter.

The Falcons offense responded by moving the ball to midfield thanks to a five-yard catch by White to convert on their initial third down. On the following play, Ryan hit Smith on a 34-yard pass over the middle, but an illegal formation call on Harry Douglas negated the big gain. That was followed up by a sack on Ryan two plays later by Koa Misi, but thankfully an illegal contact penalty on Louis Delmas gave the Falcons a first down rather than a 3rd-and-17. White would convert on another third down a few plays later on a hitch route. Another catch by White would put the Falcons in the red zone two plays later. On 3rd-and-3 at the Dolphins 10-yard line, Ryan’s lob to Devin Hester was off the mark. But offsetting illegal use of hands penalties on Jake Matthews and Dolphins safety Reshad Jones allowed the Falcons to replay the down. Ryan hit White for a six-yard gain on the following play, but linebacker Philip Wheeler was flagged for hitting Ryan high on a roughing the passer penalty giving the Falcons a fresh set of downs at the two-yard line. Jacquizz Rodgers sprinted left on a sweep behind a Patrick DiMarco block to get the score, tying up the game with less than a minute remaining in the first quarter. That Rodgers run capped off a 15-play, 77-yard drive that bled nine minutes of clock.

To start the second quarter, the Dolphins substituted Tannehill out at quarterback for undrafted rookie Seth Lobato, who finished the game for the Dolphins. He did not fare well on his first series, leading the Dolphins to a three-and-out after Mike Gillislee was stuffed on 3rd-and-2 by Kroy Biermann and Malliciah Goodman. Brandon Fields’ punt was fielded by Devin Hester, but he was stripped by Michael Thomas and Jonathan Freeny recovered at the Falcons’ 36-yard line. But a holding penalty on Earl Mitchell forced the Dolphins to re-kick. Hester was unable to find daylight on his second return, losing two yards. A holding penalty on Robert Alford further backed up the Falcons offense to begin their next drive at their own 17-yard line.

T.J. Yates then entered the game at quarterback. On the third play of the drive, Antone Smith broke a pair of tackles and ran practically untouched for a 76-yard scoring play down the right sideline. But the touchdown was nullified by a holding call on Matthews. Then, Yates’ pass to Courtney Roby ended up a yard shy of the sticks on 3rd-and-13, forcing Matt Bosher’s first punt of the game. Marcus Thigpen’s 28-yard gain set up the Dolphins to start the drive at their own 33-yard line.

But once again, Lobato could not get the Dolphins offense moving. Javier Arenas broke up a short throw on third down to help force a punt. Hester fared better on his next return, with an 18-yard gain to set up a Falcons drive at the 40-yard line with 10 minutes left in the first half.

A pair of penalties: offensive pass interference on Jeremy Ebert and a personal foul on Ryan Schraeder backed up the Falcons to a 3rd-and-34, killing their drive and forcing another punt. Special teams allowed another big return to Thigpen, who gained 48 yards and may have scored if not for Bosher slowing him up, preventing the touchdown and allowing Rodgers to track down Thigpen from behind.

But despite starting the drive at the Falcons’ 28-yard line, the Dolphins offense was barely able to move the ball and after three plays, settled for a 42-yard field goal from Danny Hrapmann to take a 10-7 lead with seven minutes left in the half.

Josh Wilson had a nice kickoff return, but a holding penalty on Sean Baker forced the Falcons to start their drive at their own nine-yard line. It was followed up by a three-and-out and a 56-yard punt from Bosher.

The Dolphins offense finally kicked into gear, as Lobato found tight end Brett Brackett wide open on 3rd-and-9 for a 22-yard gain to get into Falcons territory. Two plays later, Stansly Maponga got pressure that forced an overthrow, leading to 3rd-and-10 for the Dolphins at the Falcons 38-yard line. Javier Arenas made a nice open-field tackle for loss on Jarvis Landry to halt another Dolphins drive and force a punt.

With two minutes left in the half, Yates began to find his groove on the next Falcons drive. Yates found Courtney Roby on a 15-yard pass to convert the first third down, and then Geraldo Boldewijn on an 18-yard pass on a second third-down attempt. A 15-yard catch by Levine Toilolo got the Falcons into Dolphins territory with little more than a minute remaining in the half. A pass-interference call on Dolphins cornerback Will Davis gave the Falcons another first down. Two plays later, Yates hit Bernard Reedy on a 26-yard pass to get the ball to the Dolphins six-yard line. However, the Falcons offense was halted there on their next three plays thanks to some missed throws by Yates and Matt Bryant hit on a 21-yard field goal to tie the game at 10 apiece as the second half came to a close.

Yates got another shot in the third quarter, with a drive started by a 30-yard kickoff return by Reedy. Josh Vaughan was stuffed on the opening play for a six-yard loss, but Reedy made up for it with a 35-yard catch on a crossing pattern on the next play. A few plays later, Bear Pascoe’s pass interference call nullified a third-down conversion to Geraldo Boldewijn. Pascoe’s catch on the next play was well short of the first down, and once again Bosher was forced to punt.

The Dolphins moved the ball a bit with the running of Mike Gillislee, but Tim Dobbins made a nice open-field tackle in the flat against Gillislee on 3rd-and-11 to force another Dolphins punt.

With 8:39 left in the third quarter, the Falcons inserted Sean Renfree in at quarterback. He missed on his first pass on a back-shoulder throw to Boldewijn, but Devonta Freeman made up for it on the next two runs for a combined 18 yards. A fade to Boldewijn drew a pass interference penalty, putting the Falcons in Dolphins territory. Mickey Shuler then had a pair of catches, followed up by a pair of catches by Maurice Hagens which set up a 3rd-and-2 at the three-yard line. Unfortunately, Boldewijn was unable to reel in the diving catch on a slant in the end zone, and the Falcons settled for a 21-yard field goal from Castillo. That gave Atlanta a 13-10 lead with less than two minutes to go in the third quarter.

Jacques Smith tracked down a screen pass on 3rd-and-10 to close out the third quarter and force another Dolphins punt. Reedy’s five-yard return to start the fourth quarter set up the Falcons on their own 16-yard line. On the third play of the ensuing series, Renfree floated a pass to Freeman for a 57-yard gain on a wheel route. Unfortunately, that’s about as far as the Falcons offense got and they eventually settled for a 34-yard field goal from Castillo to push their lead to 16-10 with 12:17 remaining in the game.

The Falcons secondary stepped up on the ensuing drive. Jordan Mabin nearly had an interception on an underthrown pass, and Devonta Glover-Wright broke up a third-down lob to nix the drive.

On the ensuing Falcons offensive series, Renfree attempted a pass to Freddie Martino on 3rd-and-10, initially resulting in a pass interference call on Dolphins cornerback Steven Clarke. But after a Dolphins challenge, it was revealed that the ball was tipped at the line, thus nullifying the penalty and forcing a Falcons punt by Castillo.

Brackett would get a 30-yard gain on the second play of the ensuing Dolphins series to put the ball in Falcons territory. The Dolphins would extend the drive several plays later with a conversion by running back Damien Williams on 4th-and-1. A few plays later on 3rd-and-3, Dolphins tight end Kyle Miller gained 14 yards on a sideline catch to get in the red zone. Baker would halt a screen to Williams two plays later, but not before it got to the five-yard line. Walker May wrapped up Williams on the very next play in the backfield and would get the strip and fumble recovery as Williams was going to the ground. But Williams was ruled down by contact. Mike Smith would challenge the call, but it was not overturned. On the very next play, Lobato fumbled the shotgun snap and Nosa Eguae recovered with 2:25 left in the game at the Falcons 15-yard line.

The Falcons then tried to unsuccessfully run out the clock but it led to a Castillo punt just before the two-minute warning. But the Dolphins weren’t able to move the ball on the subsequent drive, thanks in part to Mabin nearly picking off their fourth-down throw, resulting in a turnover on downs. Renfree would kneel on the next two plays, and the Falcons were able to escape with a 16-10 win.

Next week, the Falcons will go on the road to face the Houston Texans in their second preseason contest.

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Aaron Freeman
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