ATLANTA — A healthy Julio Jones made a big difference for Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons’ offense.
Jones broke two tackles on a 52-yard touchdown pass from Ryan as the Falcons built a big early lead before rookie Bishop Sankey’s late scoring run lifted the Tennessee Titans to a 24-17 preseason win on Saturday night.
Atlanta (1-2) led 17-3 late in the first half and 17-10 at halftime.
Tennessee (2-1) took its first lead on the 3-yard touchdown run by Sankey, the second-round pick from Washington, with 5:45 remaining. Sankey got the call again, running off right guard for the 2-point conversion.
Sean Renfree led Atlanta to the Titans’ 4-yard line, but couldn’t complete a fourth-and-2 pass to Julian Jones with 1:08 remaining.
Each starting quarterback left after one series in the third quarter.
Ryan was sharp, spreading his passes around as he completed 18 of 23 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns.
Devin Hester, who didn’t have a catch last season with the Chicago Bears, was a big part of the offense. Hester caught four passes for 56 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown to end Atlanta’s opening possession.
Jake Locker completed 12 of 17 passes for 188 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown pass to Nate Washington late in the first half. Washington burned Atlanta cornerback Desmond Trufant on the catch.
Julio Jones has been limited in training camp and the preseason during his recovery from a broken right foot. He has looked explosive at times in practice.
Saturday night provided the first evidence in a game that he’s regained the form that enabled him to lead the NFL in catches when his 2013 season ended in a Week 5 loss to the Jets.
He broke the same bone in his right foot during his college career at Alabama, adding more concern about his recovery.
Jones had two catches for 63 yards, but he was a problem for the Titans’ secondary even when he wasn’t making catches. He drew two pass interference penalties and drew another flag that was declined because he caught the ball even though cornerback Tommie Campbell was on his back.
With Atlanta leading 7-3 in the second quarter, Jones caught a pass from Ryan for what appeared to be a relatively modest gain. Instead, Jones broke a tackle by Coty Sensabaugh before spinning away from two defenders and sprinting down the sideline for the 52-yard touchdown. Receiver Harry Douglas’ block helped clear the path for Jones.
The Titans’ defense late in the first half made a stop on Jacquizz Rodgers’ fourth-and-1 run from the Tennessee 20. Rodgers was a workhorse as he continued to start at running back while Steven Jackson recovers from a right hamstring injury. Rodgers had eight carries for 33 yards and five catches for 31 yards in the first half.
Zach Mettenberger replaced Locker in the third quarter and completed 11 of 19 passes for 148 yards.
Tennessee’s Maikon Bonini was well short on a 63-yard field goal attempt to end the first half, but he made a 51-yarder in the third quarter to cut Atlanta’s lead to 17-13.
Travis Coons added a 39-yard field goal early in the fourth period to cut the lead to 17-16.