Falcons’ backups beat Dolphins’ reserves in first exhibition
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Atlanta Falcons running back Godwin Igwebuike (42) reacts after scoring a touchdown in the first half of a preseason NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, in Miami Gardens, Fla. The Falcons won 19-3. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Let’s just call this one “The Backup Bowl.”
With the Falcons and Dolphins electing not to play their first-team players in their exhibition opener, the backups on their 90-man rosters were left to battle it out on Friday at Hard Rock Stadium.
The offense, defense and special teams all contributed with a touchdown as the Falcons beat the Dolphins 19-3.
“Well, I think they are a gritty team, hard-nosed and strong guys,” Dolphins lineman Liam Eichenberg said of the Falcons. “Obviously, coached well and very disciplined.”
There was even time to chat.
“For me personally, I have a buddy over there, Ade Ogundeji,” said Eichenberg, who played at Notre Dame. “He plays defensive end so it was good seeing him and everything.”
Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter
The two teams practiced together on Tuesday and Wednesday before the game.
“It’s always good having a team come here and practice hard,” Eichenberg said. “They were great competitors.”
Falcons third-string quarterback Logan Woodside directed a touchdown drive, cornerback Dee Alford scored on a 79-yard punt return and cornerback Breon Borders returned an interception 26 yards for a touchdown.
“I thought we did some good things offensively,” Woodside said. “I wish we could have put more points on the board. A couple of things operationally, I wish I could have had back.”
The Dolphins released a list of 31 players that did not play. The Falcons had 36 players on the “did not play” list.
“Our guys will play next week against Cincinnati,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “So, we’ll be back home. We’ll have to evaluate, but those guys will play next week at home.”
Falcons fans will have to wait to see quarterback Desmond Ridder, running back Bijan Robinson, defense tackle Grady Jarrett and the rest of the starters.
On the highlight play of the game, Alford started out right and broke back to his left on his way to a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“Once I saw (the punter), I knew I had the sideline with my speed,” Alford said. “I knew once I (got) past him, it was a touchdown.”
On the Dolphins’ ensuing drive, Borders intercepted a Sklar Thompson pass and returned it for a touchdown.
Woodside completed 14 of 23 passes for 146 yards and finished with a passer rating of 79.3.
“I thought he played with pretty good poise,” Smith said. “He threw some good footballs tonight. It wasn’t perfect, but I thought his ball placement was pretty good.”
Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter
On a troubling note, kicker Younghoe Koo missed two extra points.
The Falcons held a 6-0 lead at halftime despite being outgained 205-135. The defense had three red-zone stops after giving up long drives.
Safety DeMarcco Hellams, who left the game in the fourth quarter and was evaluated in the blue tent, had an interception two yards deep in the end zone to stop the Dolphins’ first drive. He returned the interception 15 yards to the Falcons’ 13.
The Falcons drove the ball out to the 45, but were forced to punt. Woodside was 4 of 5 passing for 25 yards on the opening drive. An illegal shift by tight end Parker Hesse and wide receiver Scotty Miller wiped away a conversion and made it third-and-8. The Falcons didn’t convert and punted.
The Falcons’ defense, with the help of a sack by linebacker Nate Landman, forced the Dolphins to punt.
With Woodside looking comfortable in the pocket, the Falcons went on a touchdown drive. Running back Godwin Igwebuike scored on an 11-yard touchdown run to cap an eight-play, 68-yard drive. Koo’s extra point attempt hit the right upright and was no good.
The Dolphins went back on the move, powered by a 35-yard scamper by running back Myles Gaskin. Mike White guided the Dolphins down to the Falcons’ 3-yard line. But his fourth-and-2 pass intended for wide receiver Braxton Berrios was broken up by Borders.
The Falcons picked up a first down, but on the following series Woodside was sacked on third-and-8 and they punted on fourth down.
The Dolphins pulled out the old flanker reverse and tossed the ball to wide receiver Erik Ezukanma, who broke loose for 39 yards. White drove the Dolphins down to the 6-yard line, but his fourth-and-2 pass was tipped by Falcons defensive end Joe Gaziano and fell incomplete.
The Falcons ran a play to end the half.
Overall, the defense had an interception, forced a punt, a turnover on downs and another turnover on downs in the first half. Hellams was a standout for the unit. He had seven tackles and a pass breakup to go with his interception.
“Tre (Flowers) did a good job deflecting the ball,” Hellams said. “Hats off to Tre for giving me a chance to make that play. He put the ball in my possession and I made sure that if it touched my hands I caught it.”
Landman, Tae Davis and Borders had five tackles each. The Falcons also finished with five sacks.
The Falcons opened with a starting offensive line of Joshua Miles (left tackle), Kyle Hinton (left guard), Ryan Neuzil (center), Jonotthan Harrison (right guard) and Jalen Mayfield (right tackle).
The Falcons used Mathew Sexton and Alford to return punts in the game.
Both teams punted on their first possessions of the second half.
The Falcons drove deep into Miami’s territory on their second possession, but the drive stalled on the Dolphins’ 6-yard line. Woodside’s fourth-and-5 pass intended for wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside in the end zone was incomplete.
Safety Lukas Denis intercepted Thompson to stop Miami’s next drive. The Falcons had a three-and-out and punted with 12:42 left in the game.
Miami’s Jason Sanders made a 49-yard field goal with 9:29 left to play to make it 6-3.
The Falcons -- backups and starters -- are set to play the Bengals in their second exhibition game at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
D. Orlando Ledbetter, Esq is the award-winning Atlanta Falcons beat writer for the newspaper, has been on the staff since 2003. Every day D. Orlando strives to provide inside in the Falcons and the NFL. He finds the most joy in providing insight into the team, the coaching moves, the offseason business moves, the draft and the games.