MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The Falcons elected to not play their starters, while the Dolphins wanted their young team, led by quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, to get some work.

The outcome was predictable as the Dolphins thumped the Falcons 37-17 on Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium.

The Falcons will play their starters in the exhibition-season finale against the Browns on Aug. 29 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Tagovailoa completed 16 of 23 for 183 yards and a touchdown. He finished with a passer rating or 107.7.

“We did some good things,” Miami coach Brian Flores said. “Moved the ball, (got) the drives going. Punched it in a couple times ... overall we are playing some solid ball.”

The Falcons, who lost quarterback AJ McCarron to a knee injury in the game, scored their first touchdown of the exhibition season on a 1-yard run by running back D’Onta Foreman in the fourth quarter.

With the Falcons down 37-10, Caleb Huntley added another touchdown on 30-yard run with 4:46 left in the game.

Here are five things we learned from the loss:

1. McCarron injured. McCarron suffered a knee injury in the second quarter.

“Yeah, I really feel for AJ McCarron,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “Anytime that something like that happens, it’s non-contact. It’s tough when you know what these guys put into it. I feel for AJ. We’ll obviously get the MRI to confirm He’s heart broken. He had bounced back.

“He was out there fighting for his team, trying to get the extra yards. I understand that injuries are a part of the game, but there is still a human element. So, I feel for AJ.”

With the Falcons down 14-3, the offense was on the move. McCarron broke loose for a 7-yard gain and was tackled hard by linebacker Sam Eguavoen. McCarron stayed in for another play before walking over to the sideline. The trainers attended to him and took him to the blue tent.

It was later announced that he suffered a knee injury and would not return.

McCarron was vying to win the Falcons’ backup quarterback job that became vacant with the retirement of Matt Schaub.

McCarron directed the Falcons to a field goal on their first possession of the game. He completed a pass to wide receiver Christian Blake over the middle for 16 yards, but misfired on two other passes. He missed Blake and his pass for Tajae Sharpe on third-and-8 from the 37 was thrown too early.

McCarron was trying to bounce back from a poor performance against Tennessee, when he completed 5 of 12 passes for 36 yards and one interception in the 23-3 loss. He completed 3 of 6 passes for 36 yards before the injury.

Feleipe Franks took over at quarterback for the Falcons. He completed 4 of 9 passes for 46 yards and was sacked four times, including one for a safety. He was also intercepted and finished with a passer rating of 20.8.

“There were bad plays and really just learn from those,” Franks said. “Learn from the good and the bad.”

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

2. Challenge operation. Early in the second quarter the Falcons tested their challenge operation.

With 13:59 left, Tagovailoa appeared to complete a pass to Jaylen Waddle for four yards.

The Falcons saw that the ball hit the ground and tossed the red challenge flag.

The play was reversed as the pass was ruled incomplete.

“That was from up in the box,” Smith said. “That was really good team work. You were kind of waiting to see how the booth review was going to go. So, you’re waiting and waiting and they tell you in about 20 seconds if they don’t do it. We had really good communications upstairs. That’s was good team work. So I threw it. I waited, but I threw it and we won the challenge. I was happy with that.”

3. Missed opportunity. After McCarron left the game, Franks drove the Falcons down to the Dolphins’ 3-yard line.

On third and goal, he delivered a nice pass to Sharpe, who dropped the ball in the end zone. The ball was a little hot, but a pro receiver should have caught it.

The Falcons elected to go for it on fourth down, but Franks’ pass intended for tight end John Raine was knocked away by Dolphins safety Eric Rowe.

“Yeah, any time you get a stop in the red zone and keep them out of the end zone, that’s a good play for us,” Flores said.

4. Ollison got a good look. Falcons coaches wanted to get a good look at running back Qadree Ollison.

In the first half, he rushed seven times for 21 yards before being replaced by Huntley.

Huntley, the undrafted rookie from Locust Grove High School and Ball State, finished with six carries for 56 yards, including the touchdown run.

“The offensive line did a good job in responding after the first quarter (with) getting the run game going,” Huntley said.

5. Cut down on penalties: After having 11 penalties for 99 yards in the exhibition opener against the Titans, the Falcons had four penalties for 35 yards.

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