Beating a team that played in the NFC championship game is nice in the preseason. Winning when both the Titans and Atlanta Falcons played their starters into the second half makes it even better.
Jake Locker threw for 133 yards and a touchdown, and Tennessee sacked Matt Ryan five times Saturday night as the Titans beat the Falcons 27-16.
Locker got both his first TD with a 11-yarder to Nate Washington and the first turnover this preseason for the Titans. The third-year quarterback also posted his best game yet as he completed 11 of 13 passes and finished with a 134.9 passer rating before leaving after a series in the third quarter.
"Preseason or not, at least we won one that the guys played into the third quarter on both sides, so you kind of got a real feel of where we're at," coach Mike Munchak said of the Titans' first preseason win. "Still a lot different than the regular season. We know that. But again, you want to be ready to go out and play."
Ryan had Tony Gonzalez back after the veteran tight end reported to the Falcons this week. But a Tennessee defense without four starters got to Ryan repeatedly, including three times on third downs. Julio Jones was thrown at eight times with Roddy White resting an injured ankle, and dropped a couple while also drawing an offensive pass interference penalty.
Atlanta wound up settling for four field goal attempts by Jeremy Shelley, and he missed a 46-yarder wide right.
The Falcons, who lost to San Francisco in the NFC championship game in January, averaged 26.2 points per season in 2012. But they trailed 20-6 when Ryan left after one series in the third period, settling for field goals despite driving to the Tennessee 6 and 13 early.
The Falcons didn't get that close again with the first-team offense. Coach Mike Smith said his Falcons didn't play up to their standards, but he trusts his players to be ready for the season opener Sept. 8 at New Orleans.
"We have a whole lot of work to do over the next 14 days," Smith said. "Many of the mistakes that we made are correctable."
Tennessee had been shredded on the ground the first two games, including giving up 193 yards rushing last week at Cincinnati. That didn't bode well for a defense that allowed a franchise-worst 471 points last season, and the Titans scratched end Ropati Pitoitua, tackle Sammie Hill and linebackers Akeem Ayers and Zach Brown for injuries.
It didn't matter because the Titans got to Ryan repeatedly, and only a call from the officials helped bail him out of a would-be turnover. Ryan was ruled in the grasp before the ball came out with defensive tackle Jurrell Casey recovering in the second quarter.
"A couple things stick out to me," Ryan said. "Production in the red zone we've got to do better and improve on in the next two weeks. And overall execution needs to be better across the board. We just need to play better than we did tonight."
The Titans finished with six sacks.
"That was one of our goals this whole season is to get to the quarterback and take pressure off of our DBs, and I felt up front we had a great game today being able to do that," Casey said.
Locker's turnover came when Atlanta blitzed on third down. He got away from Thomas DeCoud and scrambled to the first down marker only to be stripped by Joplo Bartu, with DeCoud recovering the ball. But the defense held, forcing a field goal.
"You can't have turnovers like that," Locker said. "It was nice to respond and find ways to put points on the board."
Atlanta cornerback Asante Samuel hurt his thigh in the first quarter and didn't return. Rookie Robert Alford replaced him, with rookie Desmond Trufant on the other side, and Locker started going downfield more.
Chris Johnson ran 11 times for 65 yards. Backup Shonn Greene hurt an ankle in the first half and didn't finish the game.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, signed to back up Locker, made sure the Titans finally finished a game with a win. Dominique Davis rallied the Falcons within 20-16 with a TD pass to Darius Johnson, but Fitzpatrick found Michael Preston on a 6-yarder to seal it.
Notes: Titans rookie LB Jonathan "Tig" Willard, who helped rescue a woman and her three children from a burning car on his way to training camp, intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter. ... Falcons DT Peria Jerry hurt his jaw. He didn't return after being cleared by doctors because the second-team already was in. ... Ed Hochuli worked the first half as referee, with Wayne Mackie handling the second. ... Washington didn't finish with an injured right foot that he said after the game wasn't serious. RB Shonn Greene also didn't play in the second half with an injured ankle.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org