NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans are busy trying to learn how to win games. The Atlanta Falcons are happy they have a couple more weeks left before the regular season.
Jake Locker played one of his best games yet, throwing for 133 yards and a touchdown in helping Tennessee beat the Falcons 27-16 Saturday night. The Titans (1-2) also showed some of the aggressive defense they've been honing with assistant coach Gregg Williams and coordinator Jerry Gray by sacking Matt Ryan five times.
The Falcons (0-3) remain winless this preseason with the finale Thursday night against Jacksonville. Preseason records don't matter once September begins, and Atlanta won 13 games last season to earn home-field throughout the NFC playoffs. Time now is of the essence for fine-tuning with the season opener Sept. 8 at New Orleans.
"We know what our number one goal is, and that's to be as prepared as we possibly can for the opening game there in New Orleans," Atlanta coach Mike Smith said.
Five things we learned:
1. WHO NEEDS TRAINING CAMP?: Veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez rejoined the Falcons earlier this week after spending time with his family and watching videos of practice at night on his iPad. Ryan threw two passes to Gonzalez, and the tight end caught both for 21 yards. Ryan went to Gonzalez on the second play of the game to help get him comfortable, and he said he was happy.
"Just that, `He's still got it' I guess, that I can still go out there and get open," Gonzalez said. "I've been happy with my progress since I've been back. I took care of myself those two weeks that I wasn't here. I made sure I was conditioning and working out and preparing myself for when I got back here to try to hit the ground running. I didn't want to let my teammates down."
2. TITANS' PASS RUSH: The Titans tied for ninth last season with 39 sacks, but they deserved an asterisk next to that ranking because 14 of those came against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Tennessee has been criticized heavily this preseason for struggling to get off the field and giving up too many touchdowns – just like last season when the Titans gave up a franchise-worst 471 points. Against a team that played in the NFC championship game, they got to Ryan over and over with three of the five sacks coming on third downs.
3. ACTION JACKSON: Steven Jackson certainly is settling into a good rhythm with his new teammates in Atlanta. He ran 12 times for 51 yards and averaged 4.3 yards per carry. That is a good sign for the Falcons who ranked 29th in the NFL in rushing offense in 2012. Jackson said playing for a team expecting excellence definitely makes the work easier.
4. BACK IN THE SWING: Rob Bironas had Titans fans worried when a kicker who is the third-most accurate in NFL history missed two of three field goals in his preseason debut a week ago at Cincinnati. Worry no more. Bironas connected on a 39-yarder and then a 53-yarder in the second quarter showing what a week of work can do for a veteran.
5. VETERAN LEADERSHIP: The Titans signed safety Bernard Pollard for his leadership and his nasty attitude on the field for a young defense. But the veteran now has been flagged twice in three games for personal fouls, though his teammates helped limit his penalty when he was late coming in on Julio Jones at the end of an 11-yard reception. Munchak said there's the fine line of wanting aggressiveness but not 15-yard penalties. "He knows he's got to be careful," Munchak said. "He's a smart enough player to know how to prevent that."
AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org
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