The Atlanta Falcons started their trek to avoid a Super Bowl hangover with Thursday night's preseason opener at Miami. It was the first game for first-time NFL coordinators Steve Sarkisian (offense) and Marquand Manuel (defense). Reigning MVP Matt Ryan said he wanted to see a fast start for the offense. The Falcons did just that in their 23-20 loss to the Dolphins. Here's a breakdown:
QB depth chart: Ryan played just the first series before giving way to veteran Matt Schaub. Ryan marched the Falcons 36 yards in five plays after a nifty 39-yard punt return by Andre Roberts. The drive ended with Ryan's play-action pass to Devonta Freeman for a touchdown on fourth-and-1 -- an early example of Sarkisian's aggressive playcalling. Schaub stepped in for half a series before giving way to Matt Simms. Then Simms took it all the way to the fourth quarter before undrafted rookie Alek Torgersen entered to finish.
When it was starters vs. starters, the Falcons looked: In midseason form. We talked about Ryan and the offense. He completed all three of his passes for 32 yards, including a connection with Mohamed Sanu, who made a spectacular one-handed sideline catch. Ryan showed good footwork on misdirection plays, and his linemen stood up strong in the passing game, though coach Dan Quinn was not happy with their run blocking. On the other side, the defense forced a three-and-out to start. The defenders looked fast, particularly linebackers Deion Jones and rookie Duke Riley. You could feel the push from Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe up the middle. Brooks Reed showed relentless effort, and a nice spin move, with his rushes.
One reason to be concerned: Veteran kicker Matt Bryant, in his 16th season, missed a 47-yard field goal. Bryant hasn't been a regular at practice and has dealt with some nagging injuries in recent years, but the Falcons sure hope Bryant won't lose a step coming off a Pro Bowl season in which he was the NFL's leading scorer. Backup kicker Mike Meyer nailed a 53-yard field goal in the third quarter, only helping his cause to get a longer look with the Falcons or elsewhere.
That guy could start: Although Ben Garland started the game at right guard, Wes Schweitzer, who is competing with Garland for the starting spot, stood out with the way he stood up to Dolphins star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Schweitzer kept Suh from pressuring Schaub on a third-down play, allowing Schaub to hit Reggie Davis for a 16-yard gain on third-and-4.
Rookie watch: Third-round pick Riley's speed certainly showed up both on defense and special teams. He's fast to the ball and was quick to drop a receiver right in his tracks. And Riley showed relentless effort in special-teams coverage. Damontae Kazee made a great special-teams tackle on a punt but also had a penalty that negated a Davis return. Tight end Eric Saubert had a pair of costly penalties, while guard Sean Harlow also was flagged. Running back Brian Hill missed two tackles in a row on the same play while working on the punt team. Undrafted cornerback Jarnor Jones had a one-handed, tight-rope red zone interception near the sideline to thwart a Dolphins scoring chance.
Patience, patience: First-round draft pick Takkarist McKinley, who received the green light to participate in 11-on-11 in practice, was a game-time decision as he continues his comeback from March shoulder surgery. McKinley ended up not playing, delaying his Falcons debut. General manager Thomas Dimitroff said coming into training camp the plan was to have McKinley play in the third preseason game at home against Arizona. McKinley tweeted Thursday: "My time will come. STAY PATIENT!"
Of note: Cornerback Jalen Collins, who was suspended the first 10 games of the regular season for a second violation of the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances, entered the game in the third and nearly had an interception at the end of the quarter. After a couple of solid plays, the former second-round pick gave up space, along with teammate Marcelis Branch, that led to a 99-yard touchdown by Dolphins wide receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow. Then Collins was whistled for pass interference later. ... Linebacker De'Vondre Campbell made quite an athletic play when he dropped in coverage and picked off a pass by Dolphins QB Brandon Doughty. It was an example of Campbell's evolution. ... Terron Ward took a step ahead in the No.3 running back race with a nifty 26-yard run, a 3-yard touchdown and a nice blitz pickup.