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Falcons defeat Rams to notch first win in preseason play
Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez , left, catches a 14-yard touchdown pass as St. Louis Rams cornerback Tye Hill looks on during the first quarter of a preseason NFL game Friday in St. Louis. - photo by Associated Press
ST. LOUIS — Atlanta Falcons starters were flawless. St. Louis Rams starters had no answer, even against the second-stringers.Michael Turner accounted for all but 12 yards on the opening 77-yard drive and Matt Ryan was 7 for 8 for 81 yards with a touchdown pass in two series before he, too, called it a day in a 20-13 preseason victory Friday night. The Falcons had a 14-point cushion before the end of the first quarter."We wanted to come out and execute," Turner said. "They were preaching that all week and we wanted to show that on game day. We're way better than we were last year at this time."Steven Jackson had three carries for 10 yards in one series for the Rams (1-1), a bust in new coach Steve Spagnuolo's first home game as head coach in a half-empty Edward Jones Dome. Announced attendance was 46,958 in an arena that holds 66,000."Just like I said to the team, we'd have liked to have started out a little better," Spagnuolo said. "You've got to come out and take it to them."St. Louis, 5-27 the last two years, had approached the game with confidence after beating the Jets on the road in their preseason opener. Besides getting steamrolled early on defense, the Rams struggled to move the ball minus two offensive line starters and quarterback Marc Bulger."This was a fabulous game for us," safety O.J. Atogwe said. "That's the reason you play the preseason. Going against a team like Atlanta, a top-caliber team, it allows us to reassess what we've been doing."The Falcons gave up 191 yards against Detroit in its preseason opener."We were much improved against the run," coach Mike Smith said. "It's something we have to continue to get better at. We still had some missteps."Offensive tackle Jason Smith, the second pick of the draft, got his first start for St. Louis after Alex Barron was scratched due to knee soreness. The Rams totaled 79 yards on 30 carries after totaling 193 yards rushing against the Jets."There's a lot of things I need to do better to help the team," Smith said. "As the offensive line goes, so goes the offense."Turner had seven carries for 65 yards on the opening drive against a defense he burned for 208 yards in last year's regular-season finale in Atlanta. He busted a 43-yard gain on the second play and finished the drive, scoring untouched on a 1-yard run over the left side, before spending the rest of the game on the sideline.The Falcons (1-1) were good enough to overcome three turnovers that resulted in all 13 points for St. Louis. Atlanta's defense has allowed three points in the first half of both preseason games.Atlanta faced one third down each of the first two drives, with Tony Gonzalez capping the second possession with a 14-yard reception for a 14-0 first-quarter lead. Gonzalez had two receptions for 25 yards and Roddy White had back-to-back catches for 33 yards.Gonzalez attributed the Falcons' lightning start to Ryan's play."He's a great quarterback," Gonzalez said. "It's obvious he's figuring things out. He has a great arm, talent, and knows how to play with poise."The Rams trailed 14-3 at the half and mustered 109 yards behind second-string quarterback Kyle Boller, the lone score coming after they failed to capitalize on rookie linebacker James Laurinaitis' interception of a tipped pass by third-string quarterback D.J. Shockley. St. Louis gained no yards in three plays before settling for a 43-yard field goal by Josh Brown.Brock Berlin, fighting for the Rams' third-string quarterback job, hit Derek Stanley on a slant for a 20-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. That score came two plays after Shockley fumbled after Larry Grant's sack.The Rams drove to the 13 late in the game before Eric Brock intercepted Keith Null in the end zone on 4th-and-6 in the end zone.NOTES: Falcons rookie S William Moore, who starred at Missouri, has a knee injury and did not dress. ... The Rams' 14-year-old stadium has undergone $30 million in improvements with some features not completed until Thursday. The team touts its high definition video board above the north end zone as the NFL's second largest. The lighting was noticeably brighter. ... Falcons rookie DE Lawrence Sidbury, a fourth-round pick, had two sacks and played some with the first string.