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Titans 23, Falcons 3: Rookie QB Franks Runs; Recap and Highlights

The Atlanta Falcons were dominated by the Tennessee Titans in Arthur Smith's head coaching debut.

The coach Arthur Smith era began on Friday night with a 23-3 NFL preseason loss to the Tennessee Titans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

While Smith was hired in part because of his success as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator, the Falcons struggled mightily on the offense side of the ball, particularly the passing game. 

Without nearly every projected starter including Matt Ryan, the Atlanta passing attack never got going. Starting quarterback A.J. McCarron was 5 of 12 for 36 yards and a touchdown.

Feleipe Franks ran the second half for the Falcons and he wasn't much better passing, but the rookie was he Falcons leading rusher. Franks finished 2 of 10 passing for nine yards, but he added 76 yards rushing.

While the offense didn't get going until Franks began running the ball, it was the Falcons defense that made the plays early. Each of the Titans first two drives were ended by sacks by from Falcons.

The Falcons kicked off to start the game, and it was the No. 2 defense that took the field first, fitting considering how many of the Titans’ first-teamers were out of action as well.

The Titans didn’t make a lot of changes from Smith’s successful 2020 offense, so the scheme that the Falcons were facing was similar to what they’ve been facing in practice.

The Titans got off to a fast start with a run by Darrynton Evans, but a couple of penalties including a trip and a hold stalled the Titans drive, and Jonathan Bullard finished them off with a sack of quarterback Logan Woodside. The play from Bullard was particularly encouraging, because it came with only a four-man rush.

Chris Rowland, not rookie Avery Williams, got the nod to field the ensuing punt, and while he fielded it inside his own five, he got 12 yards on the return.

Like the offense, it was the second- and third-team that took the field first. A.J. McCarron got the start at quarterback, not Matt Ryan.

McCarron had a nice pass to receiver Tajae Sharpe for what looked like a first down, but rookie right tackle Jalen Mayfield was flagged for lining up illegally. The Falcons first drive ended meekly with a busted play on third-and-14.

The Falcons defense stood tall on the Titans second drive as well. Mykal Walker sacked Woodside on a blitz. Walker has had a terrific preseason camp, and he continued his good work in the first quarter against Tennessee.

It was a big play on special teams that set up the game’s first score. Chester Rogers returned a Cameron Nizialek punt 57 yards to the Atlanta 14. The Falcons defense stood firm and only gave up a field goal.

Titans 3, Falcons 0 1:09 1st Quarter

The Falcons offense continued to struggle into the second quarter. Atlanta got the initial first down of the game after a defensive holding penalty against the Titans negated a sack.

That penalty may have done the Titans a favor as David Long picked off a McCarron pass.

Atlanta’s first three drives of the game netted 15 yards, 35 yards in penalties and an interception.

Tennessee took over at the Falcons 34. Woodside hit Cameron Batson four plays later for the first touchdown of the game. Chris Williamson had good coverage on the play, but a well-thrown ball and good catch beat the Falcons corner.

Titans 10, Falcons 0 14:09 2nd Quarter

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The Titans took a 13-0 lead after an 11-play, 35-yard drive. The drive was highlighted by the Falcons putting continuous pressure on Woodside including this hit by linebacker Erroll Thompson.

Titans 13, Falcons 0 5:47 2nd Quarter

A miserable first half from the Falcons offense ended with a sack after an interception had been reversed on replay. 

Atlanta had 24 yards on 18 plays. McCarron, in a battle with rookie Franks for the backup quarterback spot, finished the first half 5 of 12 for 36 yards and an interception.

Despite getting little help from the offense, the Falcons defense only gave up 132 yards in the first half and had three sacks. Atlanta only had 29 sacks in all of 2020. 

Reserve safety Jaylinn Hawkins was one of the stars of the first half for the Falcons. He had a pass break-up and a sack on the same series to help end the Titans last threat of the first half. 

The Titans out-gained Atlanta 132 to 46 in total yards and took a 13-0 lead into halftime.

Titans 13, Falcons 0 Halftime

Avery Williams helped the Falcons get off to a better start in the second half with a 37-yard kickoff return. Feleipe Franks got the nod at quarterback to start the second half. 

Franks immediately looked more comfortable than McCarron. He used his legs to help the Falcons get on the board after a Younghoe Koo field goal.

Franks was 0 of 3 passing on the drive, but he rushed for 28 yards on three carries.

 Titans 13, Falcons 3 9:52 3rd Quarter

Matt Barkley was the second quarterback in for the Titans. He helped lead a field goal drive that stalled when Dorian Etheridge made a big stop on third-and-2.

Titans 16, Falcons 3 0:17 3rd Quarter

Franks continued his good work with his legs with the longest play from scrimmage from either team when he ran for 52 yards. Unfortunately for the Falcons, the drive stalled and ended on a missed 55-yard field goal attempt from Koo.

The Falcons defense began to wear down in the fourth quarter. The Titans finished an eight-play, 55-yard drive with a Barkley 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Miller Forristall. The drive was extended after a roughing-the-kicker penalty on the Falcons.

Forristall's touchdown marked the final scoring of the game.

FINAL Titans 23, Falcons 3


Game Stats

Titans 23Falcons 3

Total Yards



Passing Yards



Rushing Yards