JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — New Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith said he wasn’t looking for a tie or a moral victory in his team’s preseason opener against Jacksonville.
Smith was looking for a quarterback, and rookie Matt Ryan provided an impressive opening case that he can be the answer.
Ryan led an 11-play, 74-yard touchdown drive against Jacksonville’s first-team defense in the Jaguars’ 20-17 win over the Falcons on Saturday night.
Ryan was 9-of-15 passing for 113 yards and a touchdown, earning compliments from both sidelines.
"He looked poised for a young guy and Mike has to be happy with his quarterback coming out and looking fairly sharp," said Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio.
Smith also noted the poise showed by Ryan, who entered the game after starter Chris Redman played only two series. Redman’s second possession ended with an interception.
"I thought Matt passed the test in terms of poise and execution," Smith said. "I thought for the first time in an NFL game he was very impressive."
Atlanta has four quarterbacks competing for three roster spots. Each of the four — Redman, Ryan, Joey Harrington and D.J. Shockley — played about a quarter. Ryan, who entered the game with 6:41 left in the first quarter and played the rest of the half, received the most playing time.
It’s clear that Ryan, the No. 3 pick from Boston College, is expected to start. The preseason will show how early he can win the job.
"I thought it was important for me to get out there tonight and compete against a team we know is going to be very successful," Ryan said. "I thought it was a good start. I still have a long way to go, and I’m glad that one is under my belt."
Ryan showed no sign he was intimidated by facing the Jacksonville starters.
"That’s a lot of fun to get in there against some of their starters and get some work," Ryan said. "I thought it went well."
Left tackle Sam Baker, another first-round pick by the Falcons, said Ryan was confident when he entered the huddle for the first time.
"He was poised," Baker said. "He didn’t seem shaken up or anything."
Ryan said he was nervous in his first series and his comfort level "was not where it was in college, obviously."
"I settled down and did some good things and some bad things but got more comfortable as I went along," he said.
Trailing 20-17, Smith didn’t send kicker Jason Elam on the field for a potential tying 39-yard field goal attempt on fourth-and-11 from the Jacksonville 22. Instead, Shockley scrambled 17 yards to the 5 with 26 seconds left.
On third down from the 5, Pierson Prioleau intercepted Shockley’s pass to Eric Weems in the end zone.
Smith said there was no need for overtime. He had seen enough.
"I was impressed with the way our guys competed," said Smith, who was hired by the Falcons after five years as Jacksonville’s defensive coordinator.
"That’s a good football team," said Smith of the Jaguars. "I don’t have any doubt, not just because I was here. I know that’s a good football team and I thought our guys stood in there and went toe to toe with them in the first half. That’s a positive."
The Falcons are coming off a tumultuous 4-12 season marred by the loss of franchise quarterback Michael Vick, who was sent to federal prison following his guilty plea on dogfighting charges.
Bobby Petrino quit after 13 games as coach, and Smith and new general manager Thomas Dimitroff have orchestrated a roster overhaul. Since the team is starting over, the timing is right to start over at quarterback.
"It’s a good competition," Ryan said. "Everybody is pulling for each other to become better, and at the same time everybody wants to be out on the field."