Tabeek: Falcons give fans a much-needed shot in the arm

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ATLANTA – Thanks, we needed that.

That's what Falcons fans – and coaches, to an extent – must've been thinking midway through the first half Friday night.

A week after being shut out in New Jersey, when the starters on offense went backwards, Falcons fans needed a sign that the machine could crank it up and move at will, even if it is the preseason.

They got it, and it came in waves against the Chiefs early on.

Calvin Ridley, the Falcons' top draft pick who could only muster minus-2 yards receiving with his lone catch a week ago, jump-started things with an electric 34-yard kickoff return to begin the game. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound speedster made a nifty side-step at the 14-yard line to leave one would-be Chiefs tackler grasping for air before showing off his stiff-arm at the 23 to give the Falcons excellent starting field position at the 35.

And the rookie was just getting started.

Falcons fans, eager to see the receiver from 'Bama for the first time at home, had to be encouraged by the 36-yard beauty he pulled in over his left shoulder in the first quarter. And if that wasn't enough, the 7-yard touchdown catch he pulled in between two Chiefs defenders in the second quarter certainly did the trick. That brought the fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium to their feet.

Then there were the offensive starters. After playing just a series seven days ago against the Jets, Matt Ryan and Co. – sans Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman once again – played the entire first quarter.

And move the ball, they did.

Ryan, who earlier in the week said he wanted to see a more efficient offense, completed 5 of 7 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown. Facing third-and-11 on the third play of the opening drive, Ryan connected with tight end Austin Hooper for 29 yards – the first of three straight first downs.

During the offseason and throughout training camp, fans have heard (and read here) a lot about the budding chemistry between Ryan and Hooper.

On Friday night, it was on full display.

After Tevin Coleman ripped off back-to-back 15-yard runs and Ito Smith pushed ahead for 3 more to set up a second-and-goal at the 4-yard line, Ryan found Hooper yet again – on a rollout to his left for a 4-yard score. And Hooper's hurdle over Chiefs cornerback Steve Nelson made it that much prettier.

The feel-good moments and reassuring plays didn't all come on offense, either.

The Falcons' defense, who were playing without Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones (coach's decision to sit), forced a turnover and held the Chiefs' starting offense to 100 yards of total offense in the first half.

Well, that was until Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes connected with Tyreek Hill for a 69-yard bomb late in the second quarter. It was an ugly play, but it's worth noting that Justin Bethel, Tyson Graham and Marcelis Branch were the three defenders Hill beat for the score – none are starters.

Back to the turnover. Since January, Falcons coach Dan Quinn has been harping on turnover ratio – in case you forgot, the Falcons finished 2017 at minus-2 in turnover ratio.

Safety Damontae Kazee, who stood out in last week's loss to the Jets with 11 tackles, picked off Mahomes late in the second quarter. It was a huge play for the Falcons, who were up 14-3 and took over at the Chiefs' 46-yard line.

At that point, the defensive starters were done for the night. But it was just long enough to remind fans that this was a top-10 unit from a year ago – and not to worry.

The scoreboard says the Falcons lost here on Friday night, but no one was talking about that as they made their way out of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

No, Falcons fans needed some positive signs. And they got 'em.

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