Wiedmer: Despite loss, Falcons' future looks brighter than Titans'

Wiedmer: Despite loss, Falcons' future looks brighter than Titans'

August 25th, 2014 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

I hope we can all agree that the only fair site for any football game between the Atlanta Falcons and Tennessee Titans - at least those of the exhibition variety - is to play it right here in our own Finley Stadium, given that it's basically equal distance from both NFL franchises' home venues.

Especially since the Falcons' Georgia Dome has apparently become such a wretched, worn-out, more-than-ready-for-a-wrecking ball facility -- at least that's team owner Arthur Blank's ridiculous view of what many might argue is the third best indoor stadium in the country behind the current grand poohbah also known as Jerry's World in Dallas and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

But since the Falcons and Titans sort of did battle on Saturday night inside the Dome, and Tennessee officially beat the Big Peach 24-17 in that skirmish, it's worth revisiting what was learned about the Tennessee Valley's two favorite pro franchises.

First, forget the final score. It means next to nothing, especially since Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and the most dangerous receiving in the league spent half the night on the bench.

All the Falcons fan base needs to focus on is that its team led 17-3 with 3:40 left in the second quarter. At that point, Ryan had connected with Devin Hester, the former Chicago Bear, for a 31-yard scoring strike and the again healthy Julio Jones for a 52-yard touchdown.

Said Roddy White in what may not only best sum up this game but the Falcons' season going forward: "We have a lot of playmakers. It is going to be tough to cover, when we are all on the field at the same time. We want to make it tough for defensive coordinators to match up with us on the outside."


You put Hester, Jones, White and Harry Douglas on the field at the same time and you think there's a defense out there -- well, maybe defending Super Bowl champ Seattle -- that wouldn't find it tough to cover you?

Sherwin Williams Paint couldn't cover that quartet, and it professes to "Cover the Earth."

So a year after perhaps the most disappointing Falcons finish ever, Atlanta would appear not only ready to erase the memory of last year's disastrous 4-12 mark, but quite possibly prepared to make another deep playoff run, much as the 2012 team did before losing in the NFC title game to San Francisco.

Of course, the Falcons didn't win the game. The Titans did. And as much as Music City's team needs to hit the right finishing note as much as possible, given its five straight seasons outside the playoffs, that success was surely better than a loss.

But winning the second half against a team of rookies and reserves who may barely see the field come September and beyond is not the same as leading or being close at halftime.

Maybe Titans defensive back Bernard Pollard was right to characterize the Falcons' long pass completions as "mistakes," as in, "The number one thing is, we can't make mistakes. We're making mistakes to beat ourselves. Not tackling, whether it is in the run game or the pass game. It was two slants that beat us. Two slants that got 14 points, and that kills you."

But the Titans have been giving up those kinds of plays for several years, whether the coach was current St. Louis Rams boss Jeff Fisher, his replacement Mike Munchak, or Munch's replacement -- new coach Ken Whisenhunt.

What was pleasantly different about Saturday night was Whisenhunt's response to those big plays. He was publicly livid. He left his first team defense in longer than his offense as punishment for poor play.

"I was [angry]," he said. "I was upset. ... We started off again playing too tentative, not stopping them on third downs and letting them run all the way down the field. That's not what we do. We don't do that in practice. I was upset about that, but they responded."

Indeed, the final stats showed the Titans with 446 yards of offense to 351 for the Falcons. More impressive was quarterback Jake Locker's passing numbers: 12 of 17 for 188 yards, one TD, no interceptions and a 126.6 QB rating.

As good as Ryan was (18-of-23 for 224, two TDs and no INTs), his QB rating was less than 10 points higher at 136.2. If Locker can deliver those efforts all season, Tennessee can contend for the AFC South title.

Exhibition seasons are always tricky. The Titans are 2-1 heading into Thursday night's final preseason game against Minnesota at LP Field, and have been competitive in all three outings, losing by a touchdown at New Orleans. The Falcons are 1-2, having been blown out at Texas with a home loss to the Titans heading into their final exhibition game on Thursday at Jacksonville.

Given those results, despite the first half struggles in Atlanta, Tennessee would appear to be enjoying the better preseason.

But these words from Pollard should at least momentarily temper any grand expectations for the 2014 Titans: "One of the biggest things right now, we have to learn from our mistakes. We really do. It's the third preseason game and it's continuing to happen."

Exactly as it did in 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009.

But the Falcons had the best regular-season record in the NFC in 2012, when they were healthy and happy, unlike last season's injury-wrecked autumn.

A single play to recall that chemistry and unity occurred on Jones's TD catch, thanks to a block by Douglas.

Said Ryan of that block: "That was the key to the play. Julio might have still outrun him, but those are the kind of plays that win games. You have guys making effort plays, down the field, to help a teammate out."

And help the Falcons return to the postseason participants they've been in four of head coach Mike Smith's first six seasons on the job.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.