We cannot know in August what will happen, or not happen, in January. We can’t even know if the Falcons be playing then. Being human, we still look for clues. And what we saw Thursday night was most encouraging. The Falcons met the Baltimore Ravens, who played for the AFC title last season, and looked much the better side when both sets of starters were deployed.
The only number worth a second glance in an exhibition game is the score when the first starting quarterback exits. Here it was 14-7, and it was only that close because the Ravens’ Joe Flacco stayed in and led a touchdown drive against the Falcons’ second-string D.
The Falcons’ No. 1 offense had the ball four times and scored two touchdowns. Matt Ryan, who bulked up over the offseason, looked a little stronger and perhaps a bit quicker. He threw 13 passes, completing nine, for 155 yards. He hoisted a lovely fade to Julio Jones, who pulled it down in the end zone, but also threw a misread of an interception.
In all, Ryan looked good. Jones looked, not to put too fine a point on it, great. Beyond the touchdown, he made a leaping catch over the middle and a tough grab down the sideline, and he even turned a screen pass into a 19-yard gain, at which point every Falcons fan exclaimed, “At last a screen! Dirk Koetter is a genius!”
Jones’ numbers: Seven passes thrown his way, six caught for 109 yards and six points. That’ll do.
“They were very effective, very efficient,” said Mike Smith, speaking of the starters. “I thought we threw the ball very well.”
And now you’re asking: What about the offensive line? It looked pretty good. Ryan wasn’t sacked. (He was pressured a couple of times.) The Falcons’ first four possessions yielded 36 rushing yards and 193 yards all told. Nothing wrong with that.
Then again, Ray Lewis didn’t play for the Ravens, and Ed Reed worked only one series. And that’s why we can’t get too worked up over anything we see in August. Preseason yields no conclusions; it only offers hints. The Falcons had to be encouraged that their first-teamers didn’t allow even a Baltimore first down, but the sight of Akeem Dent, who’s vying to start at middle linebacker, getting knocked out covering a second-quarter punt had to curb any enthusiasm.
If you wanted to see Ryan throwing the ball to Jones, you got your wish. If you wanted to see the Falcons look sharp for the first quarter, you got that, too. But nobody’s going to be thinking about this game in January, or even September. This was a nice start for a team that needs to have a big season. The season itself doesn’t begin for another month.
“It was a start,” Ryan said. “It was a good start.”
The final three quarters were less salubrious. The Falcons scored only three points after Ryan and the starters departed, and Baltimore won 31-17 after trailing 14-zip. Not that it mattered. If the season comes down to John Parker Wilson or Chris Redman having to move the Falcons 80 yards, the season’s lost. If Ryan stays upright and the offense plays anywhere close to its potential, this season could last into February.
By Mark Bradley