The Falcons spent most of the offseason devising a plan to become more explosive on offense.
In the exhibition opener Friday night against the Dolphins, the first-team offense arrived at the Georgia Dome with sticks of dynamite and some C4.
The first-teamers jumped out to a big lead, but the reserves could not hold it as the Dolphins won 28-23.
“There were a lot of good things,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “There were a lot of bad things and there were some okay things in the ball game. I did like several things that I saw out there. We, as a coaching staff, will dissect it when we watch tape [Saturday] and make the corrections. There are a lot of things that we need to fix.”
The first-team offense finished with three gains of 20 yards or more, two of them from highly-touted rookie wide receiver Julio Jones.
Quarterback Matt Ryan came out firing passes down the field at Jones, his new target, and slot receiver Harry Douglas. They mixed the deep passing attack with some power runs by Michael Turner and Jason Snelling in buidling an early 17-0 lead.
Ryan completed 6 of 10 passes for 91 yards and one touchdown before handing the offense over to backup quarterback John Parker Wilson. Turner finished with 21 yards on four carries.
The first two passes of the game went to Jones, but were incomplete.
On the Falcons’ second possession, Jones ran a drag route across the field and broke loose for a 21-yard catch-and-run. Two plays later, Turner powered into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown run.
After the first-team defense, which featured a new linebacker group of Stephen Nicholas, Curtis Lofton and Sean Weatherspoon, forced a punt, the offense again featured Jones.
Ryan hit Jones on a deep route over the middle for a 22-yard gain and on the following play Jones gained 12 yards on a reverse.
Seven plays later, Ryan tossed a nice spiral on a 21-yard touchdown pass to Douglas, who made a tough catch while being covered by Miami’s Nolan Carroll and Nate Ness.
But Jones was the star with his three touches for 55 yards.
“Tony Gonzalez talked to me and he said, ‘Just do what you’ve been doing. Go out there and play football,’ “ Jones said. “I had a little talk with him. I talked with Matt Ryan as well. He just said play football, too. They calmed me down.”
Ryan felt that Jones handled a condensed game plan well.
“He was on top of that and didn’t make any mental errors,” Ryan said. “He ran some good routes. I thought, all in all, he did a nice job.”
Ryan also connected with wide receiver Eric Weems for a 17-yard gain in the 10-play, 83-yard scoring drive.
While the offense showed off its weaponry, the first-team defense slapped the Dolphins around. However, Miami was playing without running back Reggie Bush and wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
In the first-team defense’s first three series on the field, defensive end John Abraham had an interception, they forced a punt and cornerback Brent Grimes had an interception.
The new wrinkle on defense was Weatherspoon moving to weakside linebacker in place of Mike Peterson, who later played some middle linebacker for Lofton.
Rookie kicker Matt Bosher, who’s attempting to replace Michael Koenen, did not have a good start. His three kickoffs
from the 35-yard line in the first half went to the 6-, 3- and 1-yard lines. Also, his first punt went just 37 yards. After Bosher settled down, he boomed a 63-yarder in the second quarter.
Bosher, who was also the holder, appeared to handle that duty flawlessly.
“I’m sure he was nervous,” Smith said. “ Heck, I was, you know. . . but I thought he handled it well.”
The Falcons’ backup defense had problems with the deep ball and gave up touchdown passes of 44 yards and 28 yards. The Falcons held a 17-14 lead at halftime.
“It was tough for those guys,” Smith said. ”We haven’t seen that route combination. . . It will be part of our installation as we move into next week. It was something that we hadn’t seen. It was two good plays by them.”
After getting a 24-yard field goal from Matt Bryant in the third quarter, the Falcons’ reserves couldn’t hold the Dolphins.
Miami wide receiver Edmond Gates scored on a 6-yard pass from Matt Moore to put the Dolphins up 21-20.
In the fourth quarter, Miami’s Phillip Livas returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown.
“We lost leverage and the ball got outside of us,” Smith said. “We out-kicked our coverage and they were able to get outside.”
The Falcons received a spark on a 44-yard punt return by Dominique Franks.
Quarterback Adam Froman drove the Falcons down to Miami’s 10, but an offsides penalty negated an apparent first down run by Jacquizz Rodgers. Instead of driving in for a potentially tying score, Bryant came on and added a 33-yard field goal to make it 28-23 with 3:37 left.
After holding the Dolphins, Franks broke loose again, this time for a 33-yard punt return. Froman had another shot to pull out the victory with 1:30 left. But he was intercepted by Vincent Askew with 5o seconds left.
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog