Falcons’ starters turn in lackluster losing performance

Quarterback Matt Ryan was under duress when passing, being sacked five times. The revamped offensive line has not shown that it can protect the team’s $103.75 million man, giving up six sacks.

“I don’t feel like we played up to our standards in truly any phase of the game,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said.

The Titans improved to 2-1, and the Falcons dropped to 0-3 in the exhibition season.

In addition to the pass-protection issues, the offense also couldn’t convert on third downs and was plagued by dropped passes.

Three promising drives by the starters sputtered, and the Falcons had to settle for field-goal attempts by backup kicker Jeremy Shelley. Matt Bryant did not play because of tightness in his back.

Ryan, who was without wide receiver Roddy White (ankle injury), still managed to complete 11 of 20 passes for 138 yards. Running back Steven Jackson was a force, rushing 12 times for 51 yards.

Tight end Tony Gonzalez, who made his exhibition-season debut, caught two passes for 21 yards and had a nice seal block on one of Jackson’s runs.

The offense was 1-of-7 (14.2 percent) on third downs when Ryan was in the game.

“We gave up way too many sacks and way too many pressures on the quarterback,” Smith said. “It wasn’t necessarily mental. I think it was a technique thing. Again, until we watch the tape, I am not going to be able to tell you exactly what happened, but it looked like it was more technique than mental errors.”

Right tackle Lamar Holmes appeared to struggle.

“You get in there and watch the film and you’ve got to improve on it,” Holmes said. “I just have to keep playing. I have to keep my head up and keep playing.”

One of the few bright spots, in addition to Jackson’s runs, was the play of defensive end/linebacker Kroy Biermann, who had two sacks in the first half.

“One was kind of a designed mirror of him,” Biermann said. “The other one was a one-on-one win. It was good to get warmed up and get things flowing.”

Rookie cornerback Robert Alford, who took over for Asante Samuel at left cornerback, struggled. Samuel left the game with a thigh injury and did not return.

Alford got beat for three touchdown passes, was called for an illegal-contact penalty that wasn’t accepted and was beaten by Titans receiver Michael Preston for a 56-yard gain in the third quarter.

Alford nearly came up with an interception late in the second quarter and got one in the third quarter.

“I’m going to go back and watch film,” Alford said. “I gave up a couple of plays. I came back and made a play. I just have to watch film and get better.”

Ryan didn’t want to throw his line under the bus.

“For the most part, I thought our offensive line did a really good job,” Ryan said. “We got beat on a couple of different plays. …They’ve got a good defense. A good front seven. We have a lot of different areas where we need to improve moving into the season. Certainly, we need to do better than we did tonight.”

The Falcons opened the game with a promising drive.

Jackson ripped off an 11-yard gain on their first play. On the second play, Ryan tossed a 7-yard pass to Gonzalez, who returned to the team Aug. 18 after missing three weeks of training camp.

With the aid of two penalties by the Titans, the Falcons drove to Tennessee’s 6-yard line, but settled for a 27-yard field goal by Shelley.

After the defense forced a fumble, the offense again drove inside Tennessee’s 20-yard line. On third-and-7 from Tennessee’s 13, Ryan’s pass for wide receiver Drew Davis was incomplete. Shelley made a 31-yarder to put the Falcons up 6-0.

After the defense forced a punt, the offense appeared primed to score again after Ryan connected with Julio Jones on a 42-yard pass play. But the Falcons, who were the least penalized team in the NFL last season, committed two penalties, and the drive stalled. It ended with Shelley’s 46-yard field-goal attempt was wide to the right.

The Titans started to rally behind third-year quarterback Jake Locker.

Locker completed an 18-yard pass and a 16-yarder to wide receiver Kenny Britt. Running back Chris Johnson then ripped off a 19-yard run to move to the Falcons’ 11. After a 4-yard run by Johnson, Locker found Nate Washington inside of Alford for a 7-yard touchdown.

The Falcons’ offense went three-and-out on its ensuing possession.

The Titans, mixing in passes from Locker with runs from running back Shonn Greene, drove down the field against the Falcons’ starting defense again. The drive stalled at the Falcons’ 21, and Rob Bironas made a 39-yard field goal to make the score 10-6 with 3:47 left in the second quarter.

With 1:04 left in the second quarter, Locker, who appeared to be targeting Alford, connected with Washington for a 34-yard gain. Alford was called for illegal contact on the play, but the penalty was declined.

The Titan’s drive stalled at the Falcons’ 35. Bironas made a 56-yard field goal to make the score 13-6, which held up as the halftime score after Ryan was sacked on the Falcons’ last play of the half.

Ryan played the first series of the second half before giving way to backup quarterback Dominique Davis.

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