Dolphins observations: Special teams looks capable of providing electricity

Miami Dolphins running back Damien Williams (5) is tackled by Atlanta Falcons defensive back Kimario McFadden (40) during the second half.

Dale Zanine/Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins lost their opening preseason game 16-10 to the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on Friday night, but the final score was meaningless, with the first-team offense only playing together on 10 plays, though the little that was seen was a good start.

The second- and third-team players played the bulk of the minutes, and the second half featured others fighting for a chance to stick with the team. Several players on the bubble impressed, and head coach Joe Philbin will have plenty to digest when the team gets back to camp.

The offense and their new coordinator Bill Lazor looked good early, most impressively on their first drive with Ryan Tannehill looking comfortable and in control to secure with relative ease the opening touchdown. However, they never again looked close to that with backup quarterback Seth Lobato handling most of the snaps. The team could only muster one field goal in nine subsequent drives for the rest of the game.

Here are five takeaways from the opening preseason game:

1. The offense cooled off.

Both teams scored on first drives that ate up almost the entire first quarter, but the highlight of the game was the opening drive in which Tannehill (6 for 6, 62 yards) led the offense on the 73-yard drive, hitting Brandon Gibson for a six-yard touchdown pass. Tannehill was sharp with his passing and movements. He spread the workload among several secondary targets, with both Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline, as expected, out for the night.

Running back Lamar Miller had some solid moments and showed he could be a reliable playmaker if given a chance with Knowshon Moreno still rehabbing from offseason surgery. Miller’s agility was on full display, but it was his strength that showcased his ability to break tackles and power his way for extra yardage.

With backup quarterbacks Matt Moore and Pat Devlin both out, undrafted rookie Seth Lobato played practically the entire game. The offense never really got going with the Lobato who may not have been fit to play that many minutes. It’s way too early to jump to any kind of conclusions with so few of the top players on display but the first impression was a good one.

Dolphins vs. Falcons

2. Excessive penalties slowed down the game.

The flags were flying soon after the Dolphins first drive, with so many players on both teams switching in and out while the referees were doing their best to implement some new tweaks to the rules. There were 19 penalties called in the game, almost right down the middle with the Dolphins called for 10 and the Falcons with 9.

The first half in particular featured several big plays that ended up being waived off because of flags, though this can’t be considered too much of a shock given the circumstances with so many new and young players in the game.

3. Enjoyable returns could yield dividends in the regular season.

Several exciting punt returns were on display, with Jarvis Landry, Damien Williams and Marcus Thigpen all getting into the action. Landry in particular showed some serious skills. In one late return in the final quarter, Thigpen went flying practically straight up in the air to the roar of the crowd.

Williams was dazzling with a 39-yard kickoff return, the longest of the game, near the end of the third quarter, but he was injured near the end of the game. The rookie running back was taken down with a dangerous tackle by Falcons linebacker Jacques Smith just yards away from the end zone and a possible game-winning touchdown. He ended up being carted off the field.

4. Defense missed tackles, unable to slow down Falcons.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (7 for 7, 53 yards) didn’t face too much opposition from the Dolphins defense with their first drive also putting them in the end zone. Once the second and third units took over, they couldn’t consistently hold the Falcons back from getting within scoring range all game, with the home team scoring one field goal in the second, third and fourth quarters to outlast the Dolphins.

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Cornerback Will Davis made several solid plays, as did rookie linebacker Chris McCain.

5. Late fumbled snap leads to downfall.

Philbin opened his remarks after the game with annoyance over the biggest play of the night that could have won the game but instead ended up with a bad snap causing the ball to hit the ground. Rookie center Tyler Larsen snapped the ball to Lobato, who fumbled it to the ground and couldn’t secure the ball, allowing it to pop out from behind and giving possession back to the Falcons.

"I thought our guys played hard, I thought our guys played tough," Philbin said. "Unfortunately, as I just said to the team in the locker room, there are some things that have happened in practice that reared their ugly head at a bad time in the game. If you would have asked me when we had the ball at the 5-yard line, I would have bet my ranch and everything I have that we were going to win the football game.

"Our guys were into the game, the veterans stayed in the game, I liked the way they played the game but in the fourth quarter you got to step up and make plays. We had chances to do that. The ball was on the ground today at a bad time."

Indeed, the Dolphins first and only turnover came at the worst possible time on a golden opportunity to take the lead with just three minutes left in the game.

You can follow Surya Fernandez on Twitter @SuryaHeatNBA or email him at SuryaFoxSports@gmail.com.