ATLANTA -- The Falcons lost their fourth and final preseason game against the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night, 34-7, going 0-4 in the preseason for the second year in a row.
As we learned last year, however, a winless preseason isn't a harbinger of doom for the regular season. The Falcons started 3-0 out of the gate last year, and they became the only NFC team to return to the postseason in 2017.
The most important takeaway from this exhibition stretch of the football season is that the Falcons will begin their meaningful games very near full health. They will need everyone on hand for a tough season opener in Philadelphia against the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles on Thursday night.
Sloppy start to game for Falcons' defense
The Falcons' defense took the field first, and they didn't get off to a great start. Hitting a number of open receivers in the flats, Dolphins quarterback Brock Osweiler led his offense on a 10-play 75-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard pass to running back Buddy Howell for a touchdown. Osweiler was a perfect 6-for-6 on the drive for 65 yards and the touchdown.
Atlanta didn't fare any better on its second defensive series. Helped along by an unnecessary roughness penalty on safety Chris Lammons for leading with his helmet on a tackle, the Dolphins covered 55 yards in eight plays to score on a 9-yard run by rookie running back Kalen Ballage.
A sack by linebacker Anthony Winbush helped the Falcons force a three-and-out on the Dolphins' third offensive possession, but the defense was back out on the field two plays later after quarterback Kurt Benkert threw an interception. Starting at the Falcons' 7-yard line, the Dolphins needed two plays to score, as Howell punched it in from the 1-yard line for his second touchdown of the game.
Williams gets airborne
Atlanta's offense got a bit of a spark in the form of rookie running back Malik Williams late in the first quarter. Coming out of the backfield, Williams caught a pass and found space down the right sideline before leaping clear over a Dolphins defender and gaining 16 yards on the play.
Williams left the game in the third quarter with a shoulder injury and did not return. He finished the night with 20 yards on seven carries, including an 8-yard touchdown run for the Falcons' only points of the game. Williams also caught two passes for 35 yards.
Falcons struggle to sustain drives on offense
While the Falcons' defense had issues early in the game, they eventually settled in. After allowing 21 points on the Dolphins' first four possessions, they gave up just three points during the rest of the first half. Atlanta's offense, however, never appeared to settle in and wasn't able to convert many third-down opportunities.
The Falcons didn't pick up a first down until their fourth possession, which came on the Malik Williams' reception shown above. In the first half, Atlanta converted two of its nine third-down chance. That continued in the second half, as the Falcons were 1 of 6 on third down. In their third preseason game against the Jaguars, the Falcons were 2-of-11 on third down.
Atlanta ended the game with 185 yards of offense - 101 yards passing and 84 rushing. Kurt Benkert was 10-of-25 for 103 yards, and he was picked off twice. Tight end Jaeden Graham was the Falcons' leading receiver with three catches for 36 yards, while Terrence Magee led Atlanta in rushing yards with 27 yards on six carries.
Williams, Wreh-Wilson leave game with injuries
In the third quarter the Falcons announced that Malik Williams and Blidi Wreh-Wilson had both sustained shoulder injuries. Wreh-Wilson was ruled out at the time of the announcement, while Williams was deemed questionable to return. Add note about whether or not Williams returned.
We're about to find out how good these Falcons are
While some national media members have picked the Falcons to win the Super Bowl in Mercedes-Benz Stadium this season, Matt Tabeek cautions fans not to buy into the hype in his latest column. While the Thursday-night season opener against the Eagles seems like a massive game, Tabeek believes we shouldn't put too much stock into it - win or lose.
It's just one of 16 games this season, and it's that 16-game stretch that will determine the outcome of this year for Atlanta. Over the next several months we'll find out what kind of team this is.