A.J. Green and Julio Jones, two of the better young receivers in the NFL, dazzled the crowd at the Georgia Dome on Thursday.
But the Bengals prevailed 24-19 in another sparsely attended game. Tickets distributed were announced at 68,541, but about half might have been at Turner Field for Chipper Jones Bobblehead Night.
Green, the former Georgia standout, was taken by the Bengals with the fourth overall pick of the 2011 draft. Jones, who starred at Alabama, was selected by the Falcons with the sixth overall pick.
Both players impacted the game early before the reserves took over.
Green got open on deep route in the first quarter, but Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton overthrew the pass. The Bengals settled for a 54-yard field goal by Mike Nugent to make the score 3-0.
On their next possession, the Falcons tied the score on a 20-yard field goal by Matt Bryant.
Thanks to Green, the Bengals answered quickly.
On a third down-and-15, Green ran past Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel and hauled down a 50-yard touchdown pass to give the Bengals a 10-3 lead.
The play had to be a downer for the Falcons’ brass, who lauded the acquisition of Samuel as being one of the keys to improving their pass defense. Also, the defense struggled on third downs last season as teams converted 44 percent of the time (93-of-211).
On the play Samuel when was beaten, he was playing the left cornerback position that Brent Grimes, the team’s highest paid defender, normally occupies.
But Samuel has told the coaches that he has a preference to play on the left side because the NFL is a right-handed passing league. The coaching staff likely will have to figure out how to deploy their three cornerbacks.
“It was a double move and the receiver separated on the double move,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “It was a nice throw and a nice catch.”
There was a report that the Falcons were able to get Samuel so cheaply — for a seventh round pick — because the Eagles felt his skills were in steep decline. Smith bristled at the notion that the Bengals caught Samuel peeking into backfield or that his reputation for gambling for interceptions was exploited.
“Listen, Asante has played very effective football for a long, long time,” Smith said. “It was a well executed play by the offense.”
Samuel and Green were battling.
“We were going at it,” Samuel said. “I relaxed on the deep ball a little bit, and he got over on top of me.”
Samuel, a noted film student, was not surprised by the deep pass.
“It was third-and-long, so it was time to put the ball up,” Samuel said.
Once the shock of Green’s touchdown catch wore off, Jones and the Falcons’ offense appeared determined not to be outdone by the spectacular play on their next possession.
Quarterback Matt Ryan, who completed 11 consecutive passes to open the game, completed a 15-yard pass to Jones on the fifth play of the drive. On the next play, Ryan launched a deep pass to Jones, who got behind his defender, but he couldn’t haul down the slightly overthrown pass.
After completing a 16-yard pass to Roddy White, Ryan and Jones connected on a 23-yard play to move the ball to Cincinnati’s 2-yard line. On the next play, Ryan tossed a touchdown pass to newly signed fullback Lousaka Polite. Bryant came on to tie the score 10-10.
Bryant added a 22-yard field goal as the Falcons led 13-10 at halftime.
Green finished the game with two receptions for 59 yards and a touchdown. Jones had three receptions for 41 yards.
“Atlanta has one of the best tandems in the NFL in Roddy and Julio,” Green said. “Those guys are great receivers and I look forward to watching them.”
The Falcons’ starting offense was on the field for 27 plays in the first half. They played 21 plays in the exhibition opener against Baltimore on Aug. 9.
The first-team defense, which was spectacular in nine plays against Baltimore, was shaky against the Bengals. In addition to Samuel getting beat, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and safety Thomas DeCoud missed tackles on a pass play to Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham.
Safety William Moore forced a fumble that was recovered by DeCoud, who also forced a fumble.
In the second half, Bruce Gradkowski, who has played six seasons in the NFL and made 20 starts, victimized Falcons reserves on the Bengals’ first drive.
Gradkowski broke loose for a 31-yard gain and then tossed a 12-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mohamed Sanu to put the Bengals up 17-13.
The Bengals added a 1-yard touchdown run by running back Jourdan Brooks with 7:44 left before Falcons backup quarterback Dominique Davis led the Falcons on a rally.
He tossed a 7-yard touchdown pass to LaMark Brown. After a stop by the defense, Davis drove the offense down to Cincinnati’s 26 before the potential game-winning drive stalled.
While there was not too much cause for alarm, the Falcons have established an exhibition-season pattern Smith.
With the loss to the Bengals, the Falcons have lost seven consecutive exhibition games, dating to 2010.
Their last victory was a 16-6 win over Miami on Aug. 27, 2010.
The Falcons have never had a winning exhibition season under Smith. They are 6-12 overall.
In 2008, they were 2-2 before going 11-5 in the regular season and earning a wild-card playoff berth.
In 2009, they were 2-2 before going 9-7 in the regular season.
In 2010, they were 2-2 before going 13-3, winning the NFC South and earning a playoff berth.
Last season, they were 0-4 before going 10-6 and earning a wild-card playoff berth.
“Every time that we go out, we want to win football games,” Smith said. “There is no doubt about that. But our number one goal in the [exhibition] season is to get to the first game [of the regular seaso] as healthy as possible. We’re going to out there and play our tails off to try to win the ball game, but first and foremost we are looking at trying to install our scheme and keep players healthy.”
The Falcons will play their important third exhibition game against Miami on Aug. 24. The team will use that game as a dress rehearsal for the starters and allow them to play longer.
“We will get into our game week,” Smith said. “We’ll be out of camp on Sunday and Monday. We’ll start our game preparation and it will be like a Wednesday practice, installing the offense, defense and special teams, just like we would do on a regular season on a Wednesday.”
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