Before a nationally televised audience, Falcons first-round pick Chris Lindstrom made his debut at right guard against the Broncos in the Pro Football Hall of Fame exhibition game on Thursday.
Lindstrom, who played one quarter, was a bright spot for the Falcons, who lost 14-10 to the Broncos as the NFL kicked off its 100th season before 20,802 fans.
The Broncos needed a touchdown pass from fourth-string quarterback Brett Rypien to wide receiver Juwann Winfree with 1:26 left to play to secure the victory.
Defensive back Ryan Neal batted the ball, but Winfree was able to haul it in.
“On fourth down, you get it down somehow, some way whether if it’s batted out of bounds or on the ground,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “That’s more important than even making a catch in that space.
“We call those 50-50 balls. Both guys have a chance. We want to make sure on 50-50 balls that it goes 100 percent of the time in our favor.”
Neal was on the practice squad last season and ended the season on the 53-man roster.
“It was hard on him,” Quinn said. “That’s the life of playing corner. There are some things that don’t go your way.”
Lindstrom, playing next to center Wes Schweitzer and right tackle John Wetzel, did a spectacular job on an early double-team block. He then climbed to the second level and clobbered Denver linebacker Joseph Jones. Both ended up on the turf.
Lindstrom, who played at Boston College, has been working with the first-team offense since the start of training camp.
The Falcons other prized first-round pick, tackle Kaleb McGary, was not available after getting an ablation procedure on his heart. McGary, who was selected 31st overall out of Washington, is projected to be out six to eight weeks and may miss the start of the regular season.
But this game was about Lindstrom, who could be a vital cog in a revamped offensive line.
In addition to getting Lindstrom started, the Falcons wanted to take a long look at backup quarterback Kurt Benkert. Veteran Matt Schaub started the game and Benkert entered the game in the second quarter.
The Falcons wanted to see improvement from Benkert, who completed 28 of 64 passes (43.9%) for 347 yards and no touchdowns last exhibition season. He threw four interceptions and had a minuscule quarterback rating of 35.1.
He came out strong against the Broncos and on his fourth possession he worked the two-minute offense to near perfection. When the pocket broke down, he scrambled for 17 yards to pick up a first down.
Benkert, who played at East Carolina and Virginia, moved the ball around. After his scramble, he completed a pass of 15 yards to Christian Blake, 17 yards to Olamide Zaccheaus and 14 yards to Shawn Bane.
Benkert capped an eight-play, 61-yard touchdown drive with a touchdown pass to running back Brian Hill to tie the game 7-7 with 18 seconds left in the second quarter.
Benkert injured his foot in the fourth quarter and did not return.
Benkert completed 19 of 34 passes for 185 yards and one touchdown. He finished with a passer rating of 81.1.
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