One year ago, the Falcons’ 0-4 preseason record set the stage for coach Mike Smith’s first losing record in six seasons in Atlanta.
Smith was more than ready for a positive start to Atlanta’s 2014 preseason.
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Matt Ryan was sharp in leading Atlanta to a touchdown on the team’s first possession and the Falcons recovered a late fumble for the game’s only turnover to hold off the Miami Dolphins 16-10 on Friday night in the preseason opener for both teams.
"Individually and collectively, I thought the first impression was good," Smith said. "We want to be a physical football team and I thought we showed that."
Rookie quarterback Seth Lobato led Miami to the Atlanta 5-yard line with less than 3 minutes remaining before fumbling a shotgun snap. Defensive end Nosa Eguae recovered for Atlanta.
"As a quarterback, I have to make that play and can’t let the ball get on the ground in that situation," said Lobato, who took over after Ryan Tannehill opened the game with a touchdown drive.
Tannehill was 6 for 6 for 62 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Gibson, to open the game.
Ryan was just as strong, completing each of his seven attempts for 53 yards on Atlanta’s opening drive. Jacquizz Rodgers capped the drive with a 2-yard scoring run. Rodgers started as Steven Jackson continued to recover from a left hamstring injury.
Ryan completed passes of 17 yards to Harry Douglas and 5 and 12 yards to Roddy White on the drive.
Ryan called the opening possession — 15 plays for 77 yards — "exactly what you want for your first drive of the year."
"We were able to run the ball pretty effectively, and when we did have the opportunity to throw, we were able to move the chains," Ryan said. "We were able to overcome a couple of penalties, we were able to keep going, and punch the ball into the end zone."
Smith said it was important for Ryan to have a strong answer to Miami’s touchdown drive.
"I like the way our first-team offense came back and answered the opening drive the Dolphins were able to put together," Smith said.
"We had three other opportunities in the red zone where we did not finish the drive. Those are things we definitely need to be addressing and talking about."
Lobato, an undrafted rookie from Northern Colorado, completed 14 of 28 passes for 124 yards.
"I felt really comfortable and thought the line did a great job protecting me," Lobato said.
"I thought that we did some pretty good things as an offense and made some plays. We just didn’t make enough plays."
Matt Bryant closed the first half with a 21-yard field goal. Danny Hrapmann kicked a 42-yarder in the second quarter for Miami. Sergio Castillo added field goals of 21 and 34 yards in the second half for Atlanta.
T.J. Yates, the favorite to win the job as Ryan’s top backup, looked poised in Atlanta’s two-minute offense to set up Bryant’s field goal. Yates completed 7 of 16 passes for 123 yards.
Yates is competing with Sean Renfree, who led field-goal drives in the third and fourth quarters. Renfree, a second-year player from Duke, completed 6 of 15 passes for 108 yards.
Falcons rookie running back Devonta Freeman had 10 carries for 50 yards and one catch for 57 yards. Another rookie, Bernard Reedy, caught two passes for 61 yards.
Atlanta running back Antone Smith had two big plays negated by penalties.
On Atlanta’s opening drive, Ryan dumped a short pass to Smith from the Miami 46. Smith took off for an apparent big gain to the Dolphins 11, but an illegal formation penalty brought the play back.
In the second quarter, Smith broke free on what appeared to be a 76-yard touchdown run, but a holding penalty against Falcons rookie right tackle Jake Matthews wiped out the play.
NOTES: Miami QBs Matt Moore (shoulder) and Pat Devlin (hamstring) were held out. … Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said he had no update on RB Damien Williams, who was carted off the field with an undisclosed injury late in the game. … Miami S Reshad Jones, who on Friday was suspended for the first four games of the regular season for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances, played with the other defensive starters.