Falcons Starters Shine in 24-17 Loss to Titans

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Ryan avoids Kamerion Wimbley

The Atlanta Falcons starters were impressive in their “dress rehearsal” game, before the team ultimately fell to the Tennessee Titans by a score of 24-17. The Falcons built an early 17-3 lead in the first half with their starters playing, but the reserves squandered the lead in the second half.

Matt Ryan led the way, completed 18 of 23 passes for 224 yards with a pair of touchdown passes. T.J. Yates entered the game in the third quarter, but struggled. He only completed two of five throws for just five yards. Sean Renfree cleaned up, completing five of seven passes for 59 yards. On the ground, Jacquizz Rodgers led the team with 33 yards on eight carries. Josh Vaughan added 21 yards on a pair of carries, while Devonta Freeman had 11 yards on four carries. Rodgers also led the team in receptions with five for 31 yards. Devin Hester and Freeman added four receptions each for 56 and 33 yards, respectively. Hester score on a 31-yard play. Julio Jones had the team’s other scoring play, a 52-yard catch and run, and finished the game with two catches for 63 yards. Matt Bryant connected on his lone field goal try of 22 yards. Matt Bosher punted five times for an average of 43 yards, with one placed inside the 20-yard line. Hester returned a pair of kickoffs for an average of 36.5 yards, and also had a single punt return of seven yards. The Falcons finished the game converting six of 14 third-down attempts, after posting an impressive five of eight mark in the first half. The team generated 259 total yards in the first half, and finished the game with 351.

Defensively, the Falcons gave up 446 total yards, but only 165 of that came in the first half when both teams’ starters were playing. They gave up just two of five third-down attempts also in the first half, but allowed five of 10 to be converted in the second half. Kemal Ishmael led the team with eight tackles. Robert Alford (four tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack); Pat Angerer (three tackles); Tim Dobbins (three tackles); Devonta Glover-Wright (three tackles); Ra’Shede Hageman (two tackles, one sack); Dwight Lowery (two tackles, one pass breakup); Stansly Maponga (three tackles, one quarterback hit); Prince Shembo (six tackles); and Paul Worrilow (six tackles, one sack) had notable performances.

The Falcons opened up the game with a deep pass attempt to Jones, but the pass was incomplete. But they followed up with a 10-yard run by Rodgers up the middle. Rodgers touched the ball on the next three plays, eventually converting a 3rd-and-1 on a four-yard run. Ryan then connected on a pair of passes to Harry Douglas and Roddy White, the latter of which converted another third down to get the Falcons in Titans territory. Three plays later on another third down, Ryan hit Hester on a quick slant, who then juked a Titans defender for a 31-yard touchdown. The Falcons took an early 7-0 lead on an 11-play drive more than six minutes into the game.

The Falcons defense responded with a three-and-out, thanks to Lowery breaking up a third-down pass over the middle.

The Falcons next drive was thwarted by several penalties after gaining 24 combined yards on their first two plays. Two offensive pass interference calls on White and a false start on Jake Matthews pushed the team back into a 2nd-and-26 and the team was unable to convert the third down, leading to Bosher’s first punt of the night.

On the third play of the next Titans possession, Worrilow came unblocked on a blitz up the middle to get a sack on Jake Locker. But the Titans would move the ball into Falcons territory as the first quarter came to a close. On the first play from scrimmage in the second quarter, Worrilow teamed with William Moore to stop Delanie Walker shy of the sticks on an eight-yard pass on 3rd-and-10 to force the Titans to settle for a field goal. Maikon Bonani hit from 44 yards out to put the Titans on the board, down 7-3 with 14 minutes left in the first half.

The Falcons quickly responded, as Ryan found Jones on the third play of the ensuing series. Jones broke a tackle and got a nice block from Douglas on a 52-yard touchdown score to put the Falcons up 14-3 on a scoring drive that lasted just three plays and less than two minutes.

The Falcons defense was looking for a stop, but Alford was flagged for defensive holding, giving the Titans a new set of downs. But Alford made up for it by recording a sack on the very next play. That helped push the Titans back to 3rd-and-17, which they were unable to convert, leading to another punt.

The Falcons focused on their rushing attack on the ensuing series, leading off with three carries by Rodgers for a combined 13 yards. After two defensive penalties on the Titans, the Falcons found themselves in the red zone. But on 3rd-and-goal from the Titans four-yard line, Ryan’s pass went over the head of Hester and the team settled for a field goal. Bryant hit from 22 yards to put the Falcons up 17-3 with 3:40 left in the half.

The Titans executed a quick response of their own, as Nate Washington beat Desmond Trufant on the third play for a 63-yard score on a deep post via broken coverage. That cut the Falcons lead to 17-10 with 2:40 left in the half.

Ryan connected on six consecutive passes to lead the ensuing drive, driving the Falcons deep into Titans territory. Hester caught three of Ryan’s half-dozen throws. But on 3rd-and-1 from the Titans 20-yard line, Ryan’s throw to Rodgers in the flat was sniffed out by Bernard Pollard for no gain. The Falcons then tried to go for it on 4th-and-1, but Rodgers was stuffed on the middle and the Falcons gave the ball back to the Titans with 47 seconds remaining in the half.

The Titans moved the ball into Falcons territory deep enough to try a 63-yard field goal with three seconds left on the clock, but the kick was short and Alford fielded it. He managed to get 23 yards on the return before being tracked down and the first half was over.

Nate Washington got a 31-yard gain on the opening Titans series in the second half, but the Falcons defense stiffened up and forced a punt a few plays later.

But on Ryan’s final series of the night, the Falcons were bottled up for a three-and-out thanks largely to a dropped pass by White on second down. The Titans responded with a four-and-out before punting it back to Atlanta.

T.J. Yates entered the game, but was bottled up on his opening series thanks to a coverage sack. The Falcons punted, and after making a tackle, safety Dezmen Southward exited the game with a head injury.

The Titans found success on the ensuing series thanks to Zach Mettenberger hitting Justin Hunter for a 22-yard gain on a 3rd-and-15 which put the ball in Falcons territory. But the Falcons defense stiffened up and the Titans eventually settled for a 51-yard field goal from Bonani to cut the lead to 17-13 with 3:46 left in the third quarter.

Yates’ ensuing series was another three-and-out, unable to complete either of his two pass attempts.

On the next Titans series, Hageman twisted up the middle for a sack on 3rd-and-12, but Angerer was called for an unnecessary roughness penalty, giving Tennessee a new set of downs. The Titans would push the ball into Falcons territory as the third quarter came to a close thanks to an 18-yard grab by tight end Taylor Thompson. Thompson would make another 16-yard grab on the drive, before the Falcons defense stiffened up on 3rd-and-7 from their own 21-yard line to force another Titans field goal. This time, kicker Travis Coons hit from 39 yards out to cut the Falcons lead to one point with 13:35 remaining in the game.

Yates once again followed it up with a three-and-out. Former Falcon Chase Coffman made an 18-yard catch to put the Titans in Falcon territory on the ensuing drive. That was followed up by a pair of third-down conversions from Michael Preston and Coffman, the latter of which being a 15-yard grab that put the Titans at the Falcons seven-yard line. Jordan Mabin broke up a pass in the end zone, but was flagged for a holding call giving the Titans a new set of downs. The Falcons held, until Dobbins was flagged for another holding call on third down. On the very next play, Bishop Sankey ran up the middle for a three-yard score. The Titans went for a two-point conversion, which Sankey converted on a run. Jacques Smith was flagged for throwing a punch at Titans offensive tackle Taylor Lewan after the play and was ejected from the game. The Titans now held a 24-17 lead with 5:45 left in the game.

Sean Renfree took over at quarterback for the Falcons on the next series. He completed his first five passes, including an 26-yard slant to Geraldo Boldewijn and 18-yard throw to Freeman to push the ball deep into Titans territory. At the two-minute warning, the Falcons had the ball on 2nd-and-3 at the Titans five-yard line. But Freeman only gained a yard on his second-down run, and Renfree missed on a throw to Boldewijn on third down. Renfree took another shot to Julian Jones in the end zone on fourth down, but couldn’t reel it in. Jones was also called for offensive pass interference and the Falcons had a turnover on downs with 1:06 left in the game.

The Falcons burned their final timeouts on the first two plays of the ensuing drive, but then Titans running back Antonio Andrews broke off a big 47-yard run on 3rd-and-1 to salt away the game. The Titans entered victory formation for the final two plays and it was over.

The Falcons have one more exhibition game against the Jacksonville Jaguars next Thursday night on the road. Most of the team’s starters will likely be held out of that game, as players that survive the first round of cuts will be looking for their final bids to make the Falcons roster. The Falcons are expected to make 15 roster moves to get down to the 75-man roster limit well before this Tuesday’s deadline. They will then have to make their final roster decisions next Saturday following the Jaguars game.

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Aaron Freeman
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