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Falcons' rookies better than Chiefs 20-10
Kansas City Chiefs running back Tim Castille, left, is upended by Atlanta Falcons cornerback Christopher Owens Friday during the first quarter of an NFL preseason football game in Atlanta. - photo by Associated Press

ATLANTA — Matt Ryan can check off a couple of preseason goals.

The Falcons quarterback watched with delight Friday night as holes opened for running back Michael Turner on Atlanta's opening drive. He ran efficient no-huddle formations on the second drive and avoided direct hits on both possessions in a 20-10 victory over Kansas City.

"It felt good to finally go in a game-type atmosphere with the game speed and pass rush and everything like that," Ryan said.

Ryan and Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel both lacked solid protection in the preseason opener, but the Falcons got better play from their rookie reserves.

Dexter McCluster, a second-round pick, made a few dazzling moves as a tailback and a slot receiver for the Chiefs. But Dimitri Nance and Shann Schillinger helped put the Falcons ahead to stay early in the third quarter.

Nance, an undrafted rookie free agent from Arizona State, ran for a 3-yard touchdown to make it 10-3. Schillinger, a sixth-round cornerback, set up the score by picking off Brodie Croyle's throw and returning it 29 yards.

Kansas City safety Eric Berry, the No. 5 overall pick, was credited with one tackle.

The Chiefs had a winless preseason in 2009, then no victories in the first five weeks of the regular season. They finished 4-12 under first-year coach Todd Haley.

"We're just trying to make progress," Cassel said. "There's light at the end of the tunnel."

Atlanta is coming off a 9-7 season that ended a 44-year franchise history of never achieving consecutive winning records.

The first half was a dud despite McCluster's speedy bursts and a few timely defensive plays by the Falcons.

Five of the first eight drives ended with field-goal attempts. Matt Bryant's 30-yarder on Atlanta's first possession made it 3-0, but the next four tries all missed from 50 yards or more.

Falcons running back Michael Turner, a 2008 Pro Bowl selection trying to come back from an ankle injury last year, gained 29 yards on four carries.

"We kind of wanted to go out there and set the tone early," Turner said. "I thought we had a couple of big runs. I thought the O-line had a great push at the beginning. We just didn't come up with a touchdown."

Ryan, whose final month of '09 was affected by a turf toe injury, connected on a pair of third-and-long completions to tight end Tony Gonzalez, for 16 and 12 yards. He otherwise went 1 of 4 for 6 yards.

Cassel, who completed 6 of 8 passes for 25 yards, suffered from worse protection.

After a three-and-out, Cassel's second drive ended with Kroy Biermann's sack and John Abraham's fumble recovery.

"As a defense, we seem to be playing a lot better," Abraham said. "I think it's just coming to maturity. Being in the defense three years now, I think a lot more of the guys understand their role and understand the concept of the defense we play."

Nine plays into his third drive, Cassel was sacked by middle linebacker Curtis Lofton for a 6-yard loss.

Lofton, the heart of Atlanta's defense, limped off the field before halftime, but Falcons officials said he only had a leg cramp.

"Yeah, no concerns at all," Lofton said. "If this had been the regular season, I would've never come out."

McCluster, a second-round pick from Mississippi, ran five times for 25 yards and caught three passes for 22. He needed only limited space to run past the first level of Atlanta's defense and into the open field.

"All preseasons are just to see where you are, and I think we are improving," McCluster said. "I think we can be a very dangerous team."

Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop twice tried field goals from 53, hitting the left upright and missing wide right. His 20-yarder with 2 seconds left before halftime made it 3-3.

Haley started Thomas Jones ahead of Jamaal Charles at running back. Jones played one series, gaining 2 yards, before Charles played the rest of the first quarter and into the second, running five times for 33 yards.

Croyle was 8 of 16 for 65 yards. Third-string Chiefs QB Tyler Palko completed 7 of 10 passes for 62 yards, but Falcons cornerback Chevis Jackson picked him off and ran the ball back 26 yards to set up Steve Hauschka's 37-yard field goal and a 20-3 lead.

Palko ran for a 1-yard TD in the final minute.

"Our club has a bunch to work on," Haley said. "We had some really good situations to work from and we left a couple of them on the wayside. There were some positives."