About the only highlight for the Falcons in their second exhibition game, Saturday night against the Houston Texans, was the return of wide receiver Julio Jones.
The dynamic wide receiver played strong into the second quarter, but the revamped offensive line received a blow when oft-injured left tackle Sam Baker was carted off the field with a serious looking right knee injury in the second quarter.
The Texans, playing their first home game under new coach Bill O’Brien, soundly defeated the Falcons 32-7 in front of 71,644 fans at NRG Stadium.
“It was real obvious that we didn’t play well in any phase of the game tonight,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “We had breakdowns in all three phases.”
Jones, who saw his first action since breaking his right foot in October, played 16 snaps. Jones finished with two catches for 20 yards. He flashed his trademark speed up the sideline during the Falcons’ first possession as he got behind Houston cornerback A.J. Bouye. He caught the pass, but was ruled out of bounds.
Jones, who did not play in the exhibition opener last week against Miami, made a 14-yard catch in the second quarter.
“I thought Julio looked good,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “It’s good to have him back. He’s a dynamic player for our offense and somebody that we feel like is a game changer. I thought he did a nice job out there tonight. …I think it was a good start.”
The first-team offense played four possessions and was forced to punt each time.
Ryan, who was sharp in the exhibition opener Aug. 8 against Miami and guided the Falcons on a 15-play touchdown drive against the Dolphins, was 3-of-7 passing for 37 yards and finished with a quarterback rating of 59.8.
Houston outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney showed why he was the No. 1 player taken in the draft on the Falcons’ second possession of the game.
After a couple of nice gains by Falcons running back Antone Smith, Clowney shut down the offense on two consecutive plays.
He nearly took the handoff from Ryan after turning the corner around left guard Justin Blalock as left tackle Sam Baker was blocking down.
On the following play, Clowney, the former South Carolina standout, ran around Baker and sacked Ryan for a 7-yard loss.
After an exchange of possessions, Ryan completed a pass to Jones, and Baker crumpled to the turf with 9:38 left in the second quarter.
Baker, who was trying to come back from right knee surgery, was taken from the field via cart. Baker, who has battled injuries since being taking in the first round of the 2008 draft, was emotional as he took off his helmet and was tended to by trainers.
Teammates took off their helmets and watched intensely on one knee as the team doctor and athletic trainers tended to Baker.
“It was tough,” Blalock said. “I did come in a talk to him. Obviously, I can’t discuss the injury. I’m not a doctor. I guess we’ll see sometimes later this week about what his status is.”
The Falcons announced that Baker had a right “knee injury” and would not return to the game.
“In terms of Sam Baker,” Smith said. “I don’t have an update. We’ll have more information in the next 24 hours and as soon as we do, we’ll let you guys know.”
In addition to Baker’s injury and porous showing by the offense, the Falcons’ defense was shaky again and the special-teams units gave up a blocked punt, a touchdown and a blocked field goal.
Houston quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick engineered a 12-play, 69-yard touchdown drive against the Falcons’ first-team defense in the first quarter. The Texans rushed for 26 yards and passed for 43 during the drive.
Later in the second quarter, backup quarterback Sean Renfree directed the Falcons on an 11-play, 66-yard touchdown drive.