Though the final score may indicate otherwise, it was the Falcons that really won this game.
Through the first two quarters of play, Atlanta had clearly outplayed Baltimore's first-string squad. Their young players showed promise. Both new coordinators showed glimpses of better playbooks yet to come.
Though still very early, the Falcons once again look like a team that should make the playoffs, and perhaps finally take it further than that. But for now, we'll stick to the highlights of Thursday night's exhibition matchup with the Ravens:
Matt Ryan and Julio Jones were phenomenal during the game's opening drive. Ryan was a perfect 5-for-5 on pass attempts, four of those to Jones, and was really stepping into those intermediate throws with confidence. He did make one mistake, locking onto Roddy White and allowing the LB in coverage to jump the route, but otherwise looked completely ready for another big year.
And then there was Jones. Six catches for 109 yards and a TD in only one quarter of play. Against the Ravens. I know this is the preseason, but it was still a squad of first-string defenders. That is very impressive, and spells good things for the young man's future.
Atlanta's defense was even more impressive. Through the first quarter of play, Mike Nolan's defense had not even allowed Baltimore to pick up a first-down. They held Ray Rice to four yards on three carries, and kept Joe Flacco far away from the end zone until about four minutes remained in the first half.
Sean Weatherspoon made some nice plays in coverage. Kroy Biermann, Akeem Dent, and Robert James all recorded a sack. Brent Grimes and Asante Samuel did a solid job of keeping the Ravens receivers in check.
Oh, and Dominique Franks reeled off a brilliant 45-yard punt return that led to a second Falcons touchdown. If he wasn't the favorite to win the punt return job, he is now.
All in all, a very nice showing by the starters.
Chris Redman looked pretty shaky. His first pass was batted up in the air and nearly picked off. He only completed one of his six attempts on the day. John Parker Wilson didn't exactly turn heads either, actually failing to produce a single first down in the third quarter.
Dominique Davis looked a bit more impressive in his appearance. The lone interception was more receiver LaMark Brown's fault, and very steadily Davis is making his case for at least a spot on the practice squad. The East Carolina product has some potential.
Jacquizz Rodgers had his share of nice runs. Kevin Cone, Michael Palmer and Aron White reeled in two catches apiece, though White's lost fumble will certainly cost him a few points with the coaching staff.
Robert James, in addition to his sack, finished with five tackles on the day and saw a decent amount of playing time. Seventh-round pick Travian Robertson also saw the field several times, being subbed in and out of the game from the second quarter onwards.
-Bradie Ewing's injury looked serious. He was clutching his right knee, and eventually had to be carted back to the locker room. Even if it's not an ACL tear, don't expect him back in the near future. The Falcons better hope Mike Cox is good to go.
-Akeem Dent's injury, on the other, did not look so grim. In all likelihood it was some sort of concussion, and--while nothing to laugh at--shouldn't keep him sidelined for too long. For now, 36 year-old Mike Peterson will be manning the middle. Gulp.
-The playcalling on both offense and defense represented a wonderful change of pace. The offense actually featured a fairly balanced and not-so-predictable attack, and the defense had a couple of well-timed LB blitzes at its disposal. Judging by the two sacks by Akeem Dent and Robert James, I think we'll like how Nolan uses his linebackers.
-The NFL really needs to solve its issues with the referee labor union, because last night's officiating was embarrassing. They stumbled through explaining several calls and, of course, forgot which team was playing the game. Atlanta... Arizona... what's the difference?