A sloppy field at Hard Rock Stadium led the Falcons to pull six of their key starters, including quarterback Matt Ryan, against the Dolphins on Thursday.
It rained for much of the afternoon leading to the game and a soccer match between Barcelona and Napoli on Wednesday night left the field in less than desirable football condition.
Coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff made the decision to pull the starters.
After building a 19-10 lead, the Falcons’ reserves could not hold off the Dolphins, who went on to post a 34-27 victory.
Here are five things we learned from the loss:
1. Game balls. Backup quarterback Matt Schaub was solid. He completed 12 of 19 passes for 172 yards and finished with a passer rating of 92.4. The Falcons led 19-13 when Schaub left the game at halftime.
Defensive end Austin Larkin tied for the team lead with five tackles. He also had a sack, a tackle for a loss and two quarterback hits.
Rookie running back Qadree Ollison scored on a nifty 15-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to help the Falcons tie the score at 27-27. He rushed eight times for 41 yards.
2. Playmaker Grace: Falcons linebacker Jermaine Grace stepped in front of a Josh Rosen pass that was intended for wide receiver Isaiah Ford and returned it 19 yards to the 3-yard line in the second quarter.
“It was instincts and it was also off the quarterback,” Grace said. “He read him the whole time. When I saw him, I just jumped the route.”
Grace, who played at Miami, threw up the “U” sign after the play, but he didn’t go looking for the school’s turnover chain.
“I had to throw it up,” Grace said. “I’m back at home. So, it was a big deal for me. No matter what, I’m still going to be a Miami Hurricane.”
The offense couldn’t punch the ball into the end zone and had to settle for a 29-yard field goal by Giorgio Tavecchio.
“We had a holding penalty that backed us up and really put us in a tough spot to try to come away with seven,” Schaub said. “We’ve got to find a way to correct those mental errors and those mistakes with penalties.”
3. Young defensive backs. In the first half, rookie defensive backs Kendall Sheffield, Jordan Miller and Parker Baldwin, who started at strong safety in Keanu Neal’s spot, all had plays they’d like back.
Penalties by Sheffield and Baldwin aided Miami’s first touchdown drive.
Rosen, who was acquired in a trade with Cardinals after one season in Arizona, came in and took the Dolphins on a nine-play, 71-yard touchdown drive that took 4:20 off the clock.
On third-and-6 from the Falcons’ 18, Baldwin had a defensive holding penalty that gave Miami a first down.
On second-and-6 from the Falcons’ 9, Sheffield had a defensive pass interference called. The Dolphins scored on the next play.
Right before the half, the Dolphins added a field goal. The big play came when Miller was in tight coverage on Preston Williams, who made a nice one-handed grab for 36 yards on the first play of the drive.
“You get all these opportunities out on the freeway, playing man-to-man, zone and guarding different guys,” Quinn said. “Some guys had some tight coverage last week. If they are contested plays and they make a good catch, those are the ones that you can learn from.
“Did it go through his hands? With some of the fouls, where was my hand? So, those are good learning lessons.”
Baldwin finished with one tackle.
“It was fun getting out there and getting a chance to play a lot,” Baldwin said.
4. Short-yardage attack. The Falcons wanted to improve their short-yardage rushing attack.
“We are making progress in that area,” Quinn said. “We want to be aggressive, to continue to do that, we’ve got to nail those third downs.”
The Falcons scored two touchdowns on short power runs, Brian Hill picked up a third-and-1 with a strong 2-yard run in the second quarter.
On running back Ito Smith’s 1-yard touchdown run, the Falcons ran out of an I-formation with fullback Ricky Ortiz up front. He went to the right to seal the outside and didn’t lead Smith through the hole.
He also had a seal block on Hill’s touchdown run, but went out to his left.
“Short yardage is such a big piece of it,” Quinn said. “We’ve got an extensive package. We get to see small doses of it in the (exhibition) season. It’s something that we’ve spent a lot of time on.
“Fortunately, we’ve got good versatility: big backs, big tight ends, the use of the fullback and size of the offensive line. All of those things are factors in the short yardage and goal line.”
The line was also happy with the short-yardage success.
“It feels real good to put it in the end zone,” left tackle Matt Gono said. “There was a big emphasis on short yardage this week. Especially with the Miami defense shifting and making moves, it was important to not jump offsides. It felt good executing down there.”
5. Gono gets the start. With starting left tackle Jake Matthews held out of the game, Gono started.
He was solid, but had a holding penalty and a face-mask call.
“It felt good,” Gono said of his playing time. “I wasn’t expecting to start today.”
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