ATLANTA – Last week wide receiver Julio Jones stole the show, but on Thursday, Matt Ryan showed that new Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter’s offense could allow the quarterback to shine.
Ryan finished 18 of 21 for 174 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions for a 117.1 rating in the Falcons’ second preseason game, a 24-19 loss to Cincinnati, leaving him with a 79.0 completion percentage.
“I’m just trying to make good decisions and be accurate with the football,” Ryan said. “We have really talented wide receivers and tight ends. My job is to try and get them the ball in a good spot to make a play with it. That’s where my focus has been at and I’m going to try to keep it there.”
The Falcons ultimately lost for the second week in a row, but the first-team offense made a strong showing again. When Ryan exited with 5:49 left in the second quarter, the Falcons were deadlocked at 10-10 and had posted four plays of 20 yards or longer — what head coach Mike Smith deems “explosive plays.”
“I felt like our first-team offense picked up some steam and had some good execution,” Smith said, adding that the passing game was the focus.
Among the revelations at the halfway mark of the preseason is that the Falcons’ former ground-and-pound offense appears to be a vestige of the past. With Koetter, who has worked under Philadelphia coach Andy Reid, the Falcons’ offense is starting to resemble the Eagles’ attack.
There has been much talk of getting the ball in the hands of playmakers, as the Eagles do with DeSean Jackson and did with Brian Westbrook. To that end, Michael Turner, a classic I-formation back with only 51 receptions in his eight seasons, was targeted four times on Thursday in less than a half, catching three for 14 yards.
Alas, the running game appears to be a work in progress. Turner rushed three times, twice for negative yardage, and finished with minus-3 yards. Smith said he liked the way Jacquizz Rodgers ran the ball (four carries, 24 yards) and thinks Rodgers is a three-down back, not just a change-of-pace back.
Ryan drove the Falcons to the Bengals’ 2-yard line early in the second quarter on the strength of a 24-yard hook-up with Roddy White and a 20-yard catch by Tony Gonzalez. But rather than go for it on fourth down, Smith opted for a 20-yard field goal.
Gonzalez’s night was over early but before departing, the team distributed a quote from him about his quarterback.
“He’s always been a really, really good player but I think he’s starting to make that jump to becoming a great player and one of the upper-echelon players of the league,” Gonzalez said. “… Now, with him as a fifth-year player in the NFL, I think he’s starting to become the player he can be and the guy that we’ve seen a lot of, but now we’re going to see it more consistently.”
The Falcons finally punched it in with 5:49 left in the half when Ryan found tight end Michael Palmer for a 20-yard reception, Jones for a 15-yarder and then White for a 16-yarder. Jones had another 23-yard reception before Ryan found new fullback Lousaka Polite for a 2-yard score, ending his night.
“When we’ve had some opportunities, we’ve been able to capitalize,” Smith said. “We did make some plays throwing the ball down the field. We’ve done a nice job to this point.”
Smith called Ryan “very efficient” and said he has “a real good understanding of what we want to accomplish.”
The other significant events included one of the Falcons’ biggest offseason acquisitions, cornerback Asante Samuel, getting burned by former Georgia star A.J. Green for a 50-yard touchdown. Samuel, known as a high-risk, high-reward player, bit on a move and could not recover with 10:38 left in the second quarter.
Smith was asked if the play was an example of Samuel getting caught looking into the backfield to try to guess where the quarterback was going to throw the ball.
“Asante has played very effective football for a long, long time, guys,” Smith said. “It was a well executed play by the offense.”
Among the players fighting for a spot on the roster, Dominique Davis, currently the No. 4 quarterback, was the most impressive. Davis completed 11 of 18 attempts for 121 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions, earning him the second-highest quarterback rating of the Falcons’ foursome on the evening at 99.5. He also ran the ball twice for 21 yards.
With the Falcons down 24-13, Davis threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Lamark Brown with 3:43 left in regulation; the 2-point conversion try failed. Then the Falcons got the ball back at their own 36 with 1:33 left. Davis was the victim of two drops on what would have been long completions.
Regardless, he drove the Falcons to the Bengals 27 with 9 seconds left but on fourth-and-1, he could not get the ball in the end zone.
Davis, 23, a 6-foot-3 undrafted free agent out of East Carolina, threw for 3,225 yards and 25 touchdowns as a senior. Coincidentally, he spent his freshman season at Boston College behind Ryan.
Smith said he thought Davis could have managed the clock better, though on his first completion of the final drive, tight end Aron White failed to get out of bounds on a 6-yard catch, a play that easily could have been accomplished.
Davis said he would “never, ever be satisfied” when coming up short of a win. He was asked about the competition among quarterbacks Chris Redman, the No. 2, and No. 3 John Parker Wilson, whose days with the Falcons appear to be numbered.
“My brother always told me, ‘Don’t focus on another man’s success,'” Davis said, “and that’s what I’m trying to do.”