The Atlanta Falcons extended their preseason winning streak to two games with a 24-13 victory over the Cleveland Browns on the road. It marks only the first time since 2005 that the Falcons began their preseason slate with two wins following on the heels of their preseason-opening win over the Washington Redskins last week. After falling behind to the Browns starters 13-7 in the first half, the Falcons reserves managed to retake control of the game with 17 unanswered points in the final 31 minutes of the game.
Quarterback Matt Ryan rebounded after a rough outing against the Redskins, completing six of 11 passes for 78 yards on three offensive possessions spanning the first quarter. Reserve Matt Schaub then entered the game to finish out the first half and completed eight of 12 passes for 78 yards. Matt Simms played the entire second half, completing 10 of 13 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown. He also lost a fumble on one of the two times he dropped for a sack.
In his debut with the Falcons, Cyrus Gray led the team in rushing with 76 yards on 18 carries (4.2 avg). Starter Devonta Freeman scored on a 19-yard run on the team’s second possession, finishing the night with 42 yards on four carries. Brandon Wilds also had a rushing touchdown on a 32-yard gain, part of his 49-yard performance on eight carries. Gus Johnson also had a solid game with 42 yards on five carries.
In the passing game rookie wideout Devin Fuller led the team with 49 yards receiving with four receptions. He also caught the lone touchdown pass of the night on a 10-yard strike from Simms in the fourth quarter. Mohamed Sanu had a nice night, catching three passes for 45 yards with the starters. Wide receivers Nick Williams (three catches, 35 yards), Jordan Leslie (two catches, 35 yards) and tight end Josh Perkins (two catches, 29 yards) also made solid contributions through the air.
Rookie kicker Nick Rose struggled with inconsistency, pushing his first 48-yard field-goal attempt wide left before managing to hit a 30-yard kick later on. Punter Matt Bosher was rattled on a blindside hit on his first and only punt for 58 yards, before he was pulled from the game. Rose managed only a 16-yard punt as his emergency fill-in. Devin Fuller returned a trio of punts for 22 yards while Justin Hardy had a pair for 17 yards. J.D. McKissic returned the only kickoff for a gain of 22 yards.
The Falcons offense dominated the Browns with their running game, combining for 224 yards rushing as part of their 498 total yards on the night. The team had little trouble converting on third downs with 11 conversion on 17 attempts (65 percent). They even converted their lone fourth-down try as well. The team’s regular starters managed to gain 136 total yards on three possessions and converted three of four third downs in slightly more than a quarter of play.
The Falcons defense also had a good night, holding the Browns to just 243 total yards in contrast. The Browns managed to convert just one third down on eight tries over the course of the game. However the Browns starters were effective at moving the ball thanks to a couple of big plays on their early possessions with quarterback Robert Griffin III playing almost the entire first half. On five possessions, the Browns starters gained 135 total yards with a pair of scores on some long throws by Griffin.
Defensive end Brooks Reed and defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux tied for the team lead with four tackles each on defense. Reed also added a tackle for loss. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn (three tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack), linebacker De’Vondre Campbell (two tackles, one pass breakup), defensive tackle Joey Mbu (one tackle, one sack), safety Damian Parms (three tackles) and cornerback Desmond Trufant (two tackles, one pass breakup) had noteworthy performances on defense. Linebacker Paul Worrilow added two stops on special teams.
The Falcons defense was able to force a three-and-out to start the game despite a rough start on the opening play from scrimmage. Rookie linebacker Deion Jones got the start at middle linebacker and whiffed on a tackle in the hole against Browns running back Isaiah Crowell, who gained eight yards. However the Falcons defense put the clamps on the ensuing plays, with Trufant breaking up a screen pass to Terrelle Pryor on second down and Crowell being stuffed on third down.
The Falcons took over at their 29-yard line and Ryan immediately hooked up with tight end Jacob Tamme for a nine-yard gain on a rollout. Freeman converted the 3rd-and-1 two plays later with a five-yard gain. After another five-yard gain by Freeman, followed up by a four-yard gain by Tevin Coleman, the Falcons faced another 3rd-and-1 from the Browns 48-yard line. Off another play-action fake on a rollout, Ryan found Julio Jones open over the middle for a 20-yard gain. Two plays later Ryan completed his first pass to newcomer Sanu for a gain of six yards to bring about another 3rd-and-1 situation. Freeman broke a tackle from Browns cornerback Justin Gilbert and scurried untouched for a 19-yard score to put the Falcons up 7-0 after a nine-play, 71-yard drive.
The Browns offense woke up on the following possession, with Griffin tucking the ball on a rollout for a 14-yard gain to start the series. Crowell then gained seven and five yards, respectively, on his next two runs to get the ball to midfield. On the very next play Trufant got roasted by Pryor on a go route, who coasted into the end zone for a 50-yard score and the Browns had matched tied the game 7-7 in just two minutes on a four-play, 81-yard scoring drive.
On the ensuing drive Ryan and the Falcons responded, with the quarterback hitting Sanu for a seven-yard completion on a quick throw on first down. Ryan’s next pass two plays later was in the dirt thanks to an unblocked defender on a blitz forcing him to throw the ball into the turf. A quick throw and completion for four yards to Hardy on the next play set up a 3rd-and-6. But the slant to Sanu was broken up by cornerback Jamar Taylor and the Falcons were forced to punt. Bosher nailed a 58-yard kick inside the five-yard line and Worrilow made a big hit on Taylor Gabriel after a 15-yard gain. Bosher was decked by Browns linebacker Tank Carder on a blindside hit while covering the punt and excited the game.
The Browns took over at the 18-yard line with 5:32 left in the first quarter. Griffin completed his first pass to wide receiver Rashard Higgins for a 10-yard gain. His next pass attempt didn’t go so well thanks to pressure by Reed and defensive tackle Tyson Jackson drawing holding penalties on Browns blockers and pushing them back 10 yards. A second-down screen to running back Duke Johnson on the next play was sniffed out by Babineaux and safety Ricardo Allen for a two-yard gain. The Browns tried another screen to tight end Gary Barnidge on 3rd-and-15, but Reed was there to stop it for a three-yard loss, forcing a Browns punt. Andy Lee boomed a 58-yarder to flip the field position and the Falcons took over at their 29-yard line with 2:18 left on the first-quarter clock.
On first down, Ryan’s pass on a quick out to Aldrick Robinson was tipped at the line by Browns defensive end Carl Nassib and fell incomplete. Freeman gained five yards on a nice cutback and juke move on the edge on the next play, but the play was wiped out by a pair of holding penalties called on Sanu and center Alex Mack. Sanu redeemed himself on the very next down by beating Browns linebacker Demario Davis on a crossing pattern over the middle and gaining 32 yards to put the ball into Browns territory. Freeman then rushed for 13 yards to gain another first, which was followed up by an eight-yard run by Coleman to close out the first quarter. On the ensuing third down however, Ryan tried to hit Williams on the crossing pattern and the ball bounced off the receivers’ chest and fell incomplete. That forced the Falcons to attempt a 48-yard field goal from Rose, who hooked it wide left as he did the preceding week and the Falcons were scoreless after a solid seven-play, 51-yard drive. The Browns took over at their 38-yard line with 14:52 left in the second quarter.
Griffin’s legs again proved too much for the Falcons, keeping the ball on a read-option play and sliding down after a 22-yard gain. The Falcons run defense then bottled up Crowell on a pair of runs, bringing about a 3rd-and-2 situation. Campbell broke up the slant to Duke Johnson, but the Browns opted to go for it rather than settle for a field goal from the Falcons 32-yard line. That proved to be the right call as Johnson was able to gain three yards up the middle to give Cleveland a new set of downs. On the very next play Barnidge got past rookie safety Keanu Neal for a 29-yard score, making an excellent grab with his fingertips on a floater from Griffin. Despite kicker Travis Coons missing the extra-point attempt, the Browns were still up 13-7 with 12:33 left on the second-quarter clock.
The Falcons inserted Schaub into the game, who immediately handed the ball off to running back Brandon Wilds for a five-yard gain. Schaub’s first pass was a slant to Hardy, but it was broken up by Gilbert. On the ensuing third down, Schaub was sacked by Nassib but an illegal contact penalty on Gilbert gave the Falcons a free first down. After a pair of solid runs by Wilds, the Falcons faced a 3rd-and-2. Schaub tried to hit Nick Williams on an in-breaking route but it was broken up by Browns cornerback Tramon Williams and the Falcons were forced to punt. With an injured Bosher, the Falcons trotted Rose onto the field, who shanked a 16-yard punt out of bounds. A five-yard penalty on McKissic tacked on more yardage, giving the Browns promising field position at their 46-yard line to start their next possession.
But a high snap botched their favorable field position with Griffin falling on the loose ball at the 22-yard line, resulting a huge loss. However Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon gripped Griffin’s face mask while trying to swipe at the football while Griffin was covering it, resulting in a 15-yard penalty that tacked on negated much of the lost yardage. However Clayborn beat a cut block from a Browns running back and decked Griffin for another loss of seven yards on a sack on the next play. Two plays later the Browns faced a 3rd-and-18 and failed to convert, forcing another Lee punt. He boomed it 53 yards, pushing the Falcons back to start their next drive at their 13-yard line with 7:02 left in the first half.
Schaub hit on his first four passes to start the drive, including a 12-yard throw and gain to Nick Williams with the Falcons blockers doing a good job picking up a Browns blitz. Schaub’s fourth completion was a 14-yard strike to Robinson on a rollout, putting the ball in Browns territory. After a four-yard run by Gray, Schaub connected twice with Williams on his next two passes for a combined 23 yards to get the ball into the red zone just before the two-minute warning hit. On 3rd-and-4 with 1:55 left in the first half, Schaub found Hardy on a quick slant for five yards to give the Falcons a fresh set of downs. Schaub’s next pass to Austin Hooper in the end zone was broken up. On the subsequent 3rd-and-goal from the two-yard line, Gus Johnson received the toss and ran into the end zone for a score but a holding call on tight end Josh Perkins negated the score. Schaub faced pressure on the very next play from Nassib and to avoid a sack was forced to throw the ball as it ricocheted off the back of one of the Falcons blockers. Rose came out to redeem himself on a 30-yard field goal and made it, even though it just barely skirted inside the left upright. That cut the Browns’ lead to 13-10 with 15 seconds left in the half.
After Rose’s kickoff, the Browns put backup quarterback Josh McCown into the game and he took a knee to end the first half.
The Falcons received the opening kick of the second half and Matt Simms entered the game under center for the team. His first pass on second down was complete to Fuller for a 13-yard gain on a dig route. The Falcons fed Gray on five of their next six plays as the running back gained a combined 34 yards to get the ball to the Browns 32-yard line. Wilds came into the game to give him a breather and got the toss, broke a tackle and dove into the end zone on a 32-yard scoring run to allow the Falcons to retake the lead 17-13 after a nine-play, 79-yard drive to start the third quarter.
McCown’s first full series did not go according to plan thanks to defensive tackle Joey Mbu blowing past a block for a six-yard sack on second down. An eight-yard gain on a screen to Terrell Watson on 3rd-and-11 wasn’t enough and the Browns punted. After a decent 10-yard return by Fuller on a 56-yard punt by Lee, an illegal blocking penalty on safety Damian Parms forced the Falcons to begin their next drive at their 12-yard line.
Gray got to start the drive with a pair of runs to bring about a 3rd-and-3. Simms converted on a six-yard throw to Perkins, which he followed up with an 18-yard completion to Jordan Leslie. McKissic caught Simms’ next pass for a 12-yard gain, but got decked by Browns safety Rahim Moore after the catch. The officials called Moore for an unnecessary roughness penalty, tacking on another 15 yards to put the ball at the Browns 29-yard line. Simms underthrew Hooper on a corner route in the end zone, with former Falcons safety Sean Baker nearly coming up with an interception. Two plays later on 3rd-and-7, Nassib came completely unblocked off the edge and was able to chase down a fleeing Simms from behind and strip the ball. Nassib then fell on the loose ball and the Browns took over at their 39-yard line with 3:45 left in the third quarter.
A swing pass to Browns running back Raheem Mostert started the drive off with a seven-yard gain but a late hit penalty on Philip Wheeler (although cornerback Jalen Collins was actually responsible for making the tackle out of bounds) tacked on an additional 15 yards to put the ball quickly into Falcons territory. Higgins then beat Collins on the ensuing play with a double move, drawing a defensive pass interference penalty on an overthrow but that defensive penalty was negated by a holding call on Browns tight end Randall Telfer. Two plays later McCown took another deep shot downfield, this time attacking Falcons cornerback Akeem King. However despite making the tough grab, Browns wide receiver Jordan Payton was nudged out of bounds and the pass was incomplete. The next play however saw McCown connect with Telfer, who made a contested grab over Campbell for a 30-yard gain down the seam. That put the ball at the Falcons six-yard line. But the Falcons defense stood strong despite Payton making Falcons safety Sharrod Neasman and another defender whiff on a quick throw over the middle to gain three yards and get the ball down to the two-yard line. That brought about a 4th-and-goal and the Browns failed to convert on a play-action fade to tight end Connor Hamlett. The Falcons took over on downs at the two-yard line with 33 seconds left in the third quarter.
To close out the third quarter, Simms connected with Perkins on a back-shoulder throw off play action to gain 23 yards to get the Falcons out of trouble. A few plays later on 3rd-and-11, Simms connected with wide receiver Corey Washington on a comeback route and it appeared that he was tackled shy of the sticks. However he was given a favorable spot, which was upheld after the Browns challenged the ruling and the Falcons had a first down after an 11-yard completion. Simms then stood in the face of pressure and connected with Leslie on a 17-yard completion on the next play, putting the ball into Browns territory. Gray went to work on the next two plays, gaining a combined seven yards to set up another manageable third-down situation. Gus Johnson burst off the right side for an 11-yard gain but the play was negated by a holding call on rookie guard Wes Schweitzer. Johnson was slung down on the play and fell into the back of Washington’s knee, who exited the game. Simms then hooked up with Fuller on the next two plays, including a 4th-and-2 in which he was unexpectedly wide open for a 15-yard gain. Gray then carried twice for a combined nine yards before giving way to Johnson for a 12-yard gain on 3rd-and-1, which also put the ball at the Browns four-yard line. Browns penetrated on the subsequent run by Johnson for a loss of one yard before SImms was sacked on second down and lost the Falcons five more yards. However on 3rd-and-goal from the 10, Simms fired a laser at Fuller in the back of the end zone for a score. Even though cornerback Pierre Desir knocked the ball out at the end, the officials confirmed that Fuller had retained possession long enough to award him with the score. The Falcons pushed their lead to 24-13 after a 15-play, 98-yard drive that consumed over eight minutes of the fourth-quarter clock.
The Browns took over with 7:11 left in the game, starting the ensuing drive at their six-yard line thanks to a holding call on the subsequent kickoff. Rookie quarterback Cody Kessler took over and Watson burst up the middle and trucked Wheeler for a 12-yard gain on first down. Wheeler exited the game with an injury. The Browns continued to rely on Watson’s running, whose next two carries combined for 11 yards. Kessler failed to convert the ensuing third down with a four-yard completion to Watson that was stopped shy of the sticks by Falcons linebacker LaRoy Reynolds. The Browns punted and the Falcons took over at their 20 with 4:06 left in the game.
The Falcons proceeded to run out the clock with Johnson finding daylight on his first three runs for a combined 31 yards. Gray then gained two yards before the two-minute warning hit. Gray had two more carries for a combined 11 yards, including a five-yard conversion on 3rd-and-2. With 27 seconds left, quarterback Sean Renfree took the final snap in victory formation and the game was over.
The Falcons are once again on the road next week as they square off in a nationally televised game against the Miami Dolphins in Orlando, Florida. The Falcons have not started a preseason slate of games 3-0 since 2002, which also marked the last time the team was undefeated in the preseason.