Preseason is over. Long live the regular season.
This was about the most encouraging fourth game performance you can hope for. We saw a pass rush from the first team defense, a greatly improved performance from T.J. Yates and after early hiccups, clean pockets for the Falcons' backup passers. The Falcons effectively moved the ball through the air and on the ground, and aside from one big play, contained the Jaguars on defense. For the fourth preseason game, it was about as good as it gets.
Most importantly, the Falcons escaped without injuries, which means they'll head into the first game of the season as healthy as they possibly can be without Sam Baker and Sean Weatherspoon. In what amounts to a tune-up and an audition for players on the roster's fringes, that's the news that truly matters.
The Falcons close out the preseason at 2-2, their best mark in recent years, and will be making final cuts soon. We all hope that they come away with a strong roster, and certainly seeing the starters and reserves play well in the very last game gives me a little extra hope.
The individual breakdowns are, as always, below.
- The Falcons wanted to see T.J. Yates start to put things together, and he did. In the first half, he completed 8 out of 9 passes for 201 yards, finding the likes of Antone Smith, Freddie Martino and Jeremy Ebert on his way there.
Plenty of caveats, given that he's facing backups and didn't have a ton of impressive throws mixed in there, but it was Yates finally putting together a useful performance. It'll be interesting to see if he makes the club now, and it will tell you a lot about what the Falcons wanted all along.
- Sean Renfree didn't budge an inch, showing great poise in the pocket, hanging in to take a couple of hits in order to complete the pass and generally looking like a quarterback who has been in the league a while, even if his passes were all a little short. The Falcons probably need to figure out a way to keep him, regardless of what they do with Yates.
- Antone Smith continues to sputter for a while and then come up with an awe-inspiring big play, but for once, it wasn't called back. The short catch for Antone from T.J. Yates that went 66 yards was a thing of true beauty, and another reminder that Smith is a threat to take it to the house from anywhere.
The man needs about five touches a game, and preferably more.
- Gabe Carimi was solid, but didn't do anything to distinguish himself from Lamar Holmes, who continued to be a steady presence at right tackle. He's probably got the job.
- Devonta Freeman continues to run well, and by the end of the season he may well be the best back on the roster in every facet. The blocking is going to come, and that's all that's really missing from his game at this stage.
- Kroy Biermann finally got going a little bit, splitting a sack with Paul Worrilow, who has been quietly effective as a pass rusher this preseason.
- The pressure was ubiquitous, though. Observe Malliciah Goodman taking advantage of pressure from the blindside to kill Bortles in the backfield, to grab one example, and Jonathan Massaquoi taking down Stephen Morris.
- Stansly Maponga didn't have a sack, but he was in the backfield again and again, showing penetrating ability that simply wasn't there a year ago. Given the dearth of options on the roster and Maponga's rapid growth, don't be surprised to take him take on a much larger role in 2014.
- Travian Robertson blew up at least one running play. Ditto Ra'Shede Hageman, who simply looked too strong for the backups he was going up against for long chunks of the game. I'd hate to see Robertson lose out on a roster spot, because the strongest man on the team has looked pretty good all offseason.
- Robert McClain came into the offseason having gotten a fairly paltry one-year tender and seeing the Falcons sign Javier Arenas and Josh Wilson to compete with him. He responded by emphatically keeping his nickel job, and he looked nice out there last night.
- Kemal Ishmael is potentially auditioning for a real role as the third safety in this defense, and he was all over the field slamming into Jaguars.
- Ricardo Allen had a couple of nice defensive plays. That note is for a few of our readers in particular.
- No one really played themselves onto the roster with a terribly impressive performance—sadly, not even Jacques Smith—but that just means the coaching staff won't be tempted to overlook weeks and weeks of practice and games in favor of a bright shining moment against the Jaguars. That's probably for the best.
- Peter Konz played poorly and committed a costly penalty on a T.J. Yates drive, which doesn't bode well for him. He could actually be cut, but if he's not, he may find himself behind Harland Gunn. It's a disappointing preseason for a guy I had hoped would rebound in a big way.
- Pat McQuistan gave up a sack and his hair is still terrible.
- Josh Wilson was already firmly on the bubble, and after Marqise Lee blew by him for a 57 yard touchdown pass, he may well be gone. Give Sean Baker an honorable mention in coverage there, but he's got a chance to stick on the practice squad that Wilson obviously does not.
- The Falcons third-team defense started to give, but that's a mild criticism considering most of those guys are getting cut.
- I'm getting awfully sick of these penalties.
Game MVP: Give it to Antone Smith, because nobody has suffered more penalty and dearth of use setbacks than this man, but he keeps on chugging.
Game Theme Song: This is what preseason always feels like. Glad it's over.
One Thing To Take Away: Preseason's over.
Final Word: Theseasonishere.