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Ryan mostly on the mark in preseason debut

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan dumps off a pass to running back Ito Smith under pressure from New York Jets linebacker Tarell Basham.   Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan dumps off a pass to running back Ito Smith under pressure from New York Jets linebacker Tarell Basham. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: ccompton@ajc.com

Matt Ryan was sharp in his first preseason action Thursday night, even better than his numbers would suggest considering that three of the final four passes were dropped, including a pair of would-be touchdowns, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Atlanta’s quarterback missed Mohammed Sanu short right on his first attempt before connecting on his next nine on the way to a 10-for-14 night for 118 yards in what would be a 22-10 Falcons loss. He was nimble in the pocket, too, and he had to be as he was sacked three times and hit at least half a dozen more on four possessions.

“I think there’s some ups and downs for us as a team, but for me it’s always exciting to get that first few series under your belt just to knock some of the rust off, get the feel back,” he said. “I’m always excited for the time of the year to get started and get going.”

Ryan wasn’t in uniform for the Falcons’ first two preseason games, against Denver and at Miami, but the four-time Pro Bowler actually showed few if any signs of rust.

His second pass was one of his prettiest. He bulls-eyed Calvin Ridley in stride streaking right to left in the middle of the field, and the second-year wideout stretched the play for 27 yards.

The longest play came when wide-open running back Ito Smith took a swing pass for 28 yards after Ryan lofted the ball over a New York rusher so Smith could run under it.

Starting center Alex Mack worked with Ryan only for the first possession. Wes Schweitzer played the rest of the half, and there was one fumbled one snap (Ryan fell on it) from the backup center who struggled at times in pass protection.

“I also thought it was a really good opportunity for Wes Schweitzer to come in and get some work behind Alex,” Ryan said. “That [muffed snap] was just my fault. We were working silent cadence a lot tonight and it was my fault.”

The deepest throw of the night came on his last series, when on first-and-10 from the Jets’ 37-yard line he threw long right to wide receiver Russell Gage, who’d run past New York cornerback Tevaughn Campbell.

Gage turned all the way around and jumped, high-pointing the ball with both hands. He was pulling the ball into his chest while falling to the turf, and it popped out when he hit the ground. That was Gage’s final play; he suffered a hip injury.

Four plays later, Ryan scrambled right under pressure on second-and-goal from the 6, and threw on the run to running back Brian Hill near the back, right corner of the end zone. Hill was going down as the ball hit his hands and then square in the numbers on his jersey before spilling loose.

On the next snap, Ryan stepped up upon pocket constriction, slid a step or two to the left, and threw a perfect ball to wide receiver Justin Hardy as he crossed right to left deep in the end zone. Hardy just plain dropped it.

“Took my eyes off it. That’s pretty much it ... and you’ve got to make sure you see what’s around you as well. I’m dealing with the quarterback and there’s a lot of things going on in my peripheral,” the receiver explained. “Safety thing. Make sure I’m not taking no crazy hits.

“I got to make that play. I make it in my sleep, so it’s one of those things I know I can make and I’m not hanging my hat on that.”

Ryan seemed disinclined to fret about the dropped passes.

“We’ve got one of the most reliable guys in Justin Hardy,’ Ryanb said. “He’s got some of the best hands on our team, so those kinds of things happen. With Hardy, I’m glad he got it out of the way. He probably won’t drop another one all year.”

The starting quarterback even tried to spin the surprising number of blitzes that Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams called as positive practice.

“I’ve played against Gregg Williams a long time and they run all kinds of different pressure packages . . . having played against him in New Orleans and Cleveland and all over, that’s just kind of how they’ve been in the past. The first play of the game they were basically trying to send two corners off the edge,” Ryan said.

“It’s huge. You talk about guys like (rookie right guard) Chris Lindstrom, it’s his first time playing in the NFL and you get all these different looks. You’re going to be better for it.”