Sankey’s late TD lifts Titans past Falcons 24-17
ATLANTA (AP) — Rookies Zach Mettenberger and Bishop Sankey made an effective combination for the Titans with the game on the line.
Mettenberger led the go-ahead touchdown drive that was capped by Sankey’s 3-yard scoring run late in the game as Tennessee recovered from a slow start for a 24-17 preseason win over the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday night.
Tennessee (2-1) took its first lead on the 3-yard touchdown run by Sankey, the second-round pick from Washington, with 5:45 remaining. Sankey got the call again, running off right guard for the 2-point conversion.
Sankey had no carries in the first three quarters, but delivered on the key drive.
“It felt good that we were able to put the drive together and finish it off,” said Sankey, the first running back taken in this year’s NFL draft.
Mettenberger completed 11 of 19 passes for 148 yards after taking over for Jake Locker early in the second half. Mettenberger played almost the full half as Charlie Whitehurst was held out with a hurt finger.
“I’m picking up this offense at a good rate,” Mettenberger said.
Atlanta (1-2) led 17-3 late in the first half and 17-10 at halftime.
Sean Renfree led Atlanta to the Titans’ 4-yard line, but couldn’t complete a fourth-and-2 pass to Julian Jones with 1:08 remaining.
Locker completed 12 of 17 passes for 188 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown pass to Nate Washington late in the first half. Washington burned Atlanta cornerback Desmond Trufant on the catch.
Atlanta’s Matt Ryan was sharp, spreading his passes around as he completed 18 of 23 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns.
Devin Hester, who didn’t have a catch last season with the Chicago Bears, was a big part of the offense. Hester caught four passes for 56 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown to end Atlanta’s opening possession.
Hester has found a home in Atlanta’s three- and four-receiver sets.
“I think it’s going to be a nice package for him, putting all four of those guys on the field at the same time,” Ryan said of Hester.
Julio Jones broke two tackles on a 52-yard touchdown catch that showed encouraging evidence he has fully recovered from the broken right foot that ended his 2013 season.
With Atlanta leading 7-3 in the second quarter, Jones caught a pass from Ryan for what appeared to be a relatively modest gain. Instead, Jones broke a tackle by Coty Sensabaugh before spinning away from two defenders and sprinting down the sideline for the 52-yard touchdown.
“I think he’s good to go,” said Ryan of Jones, who was leading the NFL in catches when suffering his injury in Week 5 of last season.
Jones had two catches for 63 yards, but he was a problem for the Titans’ secondary even when he wasn’t making catches. He drew two pass interference penalties and another flag that was declined because he caught the ball even though cornerback Tommie Campbell was on his back.
The Titans’ defense late in the first half made a stop on Jacquizz Rodgers’ fourth-and-1 run from the Tennessee 20. Rodgers was a workhorse as he continued to start at running back while Steven Jackson recovers from a right hamstring injury. Rodgers had eight carries for 33 yards and five catches for 31 yards in the first half.
Tennessee’s Maikon Bonini was well short on a 63-yard field goal attempt to end the first half, but he made a 51-yarder in the third quarter to cut Atlanta’s lead to 17-13.
Travis Coons added a 39-yard field goal early in the fourth period to cut the lead to 17-16.
Falcons rookie linebacker Jacques Smith was called for unnecessary roughness and ejected from the game following Sankey’s 2-point run. It was one of 10 penalties for 97 yards for Atlanta, continuing a frustrating trend through the preseason.
“We can’t do that,” said Falcons coach Mike Smith. “We have got to get that fixed. I don’t think it’s just the Atlanta Falcons. I think it’s across the National Football League throughout the preseason.”
Indeed, the Titans drew 10 penalties for 102 yards.
NOTES: Falcons OT Mike Johnson, used as an extra tackle for one play on Atlanta’s opening drive, left with a foot injury. ... Atlanta S Dezmen Southward suffered a possible head injury. ... Titans FB Jackie Battle did not return after leaving with a stinger following a hit on a kickoff return in the second quarter. ... Titans RB Shonn Greene had missed blocks on first-half sacks of Locker by Atlanta’s Paul Worrilow and Robert Alford, each on blitzes.
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