Matt Ryan throws 2 TD passes as Falcons build early lead before falling to Titans 24-17

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ATLANTA — The Falcons finally showed how they plan to replace Tony Gonzalez.

Gonzalez, the record-breaking tight end, has retired. So expect a lot of four-receiver sets with big-play opportunities for Julio Jones and more targets for Devin Hester than anyone expected.

Jones broke two tackles on a 52-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan as the Falcons built a big early lead before rookie Bishop Sankey's late scoring run lifted the Tennessee Titans to a 24-17 preseason win on Saturday night.

Ryan was sharp as Atlanta (1-2) led 17-3 late in the first half and 17-10 at halftime. He completed 18 of 23 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns.

"One of the things we talked about during the week is that we wanted to start fast," Ryan said. "I thought tonight we did a great job of that offensively."

Hester, who didn't have a catch last season with the Chicago Bears, was a big part of the offense. Hester caught four passes for 56 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown to end Atlanta's opening possession.

"We were very explosive today," Hester said. "I tip my hat to the offensive linemen. They gave Matt a lot of time to deliver the ball and put it in the right place. As receivers, we came up and made some big plays."

Hester looked comfortable in Atlanta's four-receiver sets.

"I think it's going to be a nice package for (Hester), putting all four of those guys on the field at the same time," Ryan said. "He did an unbelievable job for us tonight."

The best news for the Falcons may have been the strong showing by Jones, who has been limited in training camp and the preseason during his recovery from a broken right foot.

With Atlanta leading 7-3 in the second quarter, Jones caught a pass from Ryan for what appeared to be a relatively modest gain. Instead, Jones broke a tackle by Coty Sensabaugh before spinning away from two defenders and sprinting down the sideline for the 52-yard touchdown.

"I think he's good to go," said Ryan of Jones, who had two catches for 63 yards.

Tennessee (2-1) took its first lead on the 3-yard touchdown run by Sankey, the second-round pick from Washington, with 5:45 remaining. Sankey got the call again, running off right guard for the 2-point conversion.

Sean Renfree led Atlanta to the Titans' 4-yard line, but couldn't complete a fourth-and-2 pass to Julian Jones with 1:08 remaining.

Tennessee's Jake Locker completed 12 of 17 passes for 188 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown pass to Nate Washington late in the first half. Washington burned Atlanta cornerback Desmond Trufant on the catch.

The Titans' defense stopped Jacquizz Rodgers' fourth-and-1 run from the Tennessee 20 late in the first half. Rodgers had eight carries for 33 yards and five catches for 31 yards in the first half.

Zach Mettenberger replaced Locker in the third quarter and completed 11 of 19 passes for 148 yards.

Falcons rookie linebacker Jacques Smith was called for unnecessary roughness and ejected from the game following Sankey's 2-point run.

It was one of 10 penalties for 97 yards for Atlanta, continuing a frustrating trend.

"We can't do that," said Falcons coach Mike Smith. "We have got to get that fixed. I don't think it's just the Atlanta Falcons. I think it's across the National Football League throughout the preseason."

The Titans also drew 10 penalties for 102 yards.

NOTES: Falcons OT Mike Johnson, used as an extra tackle for one play on Atlanta's opening drive, left with a foot injury. ... Atlanta S Dezmen Southward suffered a possible head injury. ... Titans FB Jackie Battle did not return after leaving the game with a stinger following a hit on a kickoff return in the second quarter. ... Titans RB Shonn Greene had missed blocks on first-half sacks of Locker by Atlanta's Paul Worrilow and Robert Alford, each on blitzes.


AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL


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