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D. Orlando LedbetterD. Orlando Ledbetter

Are the Falcons contenders or pretenders?

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FLOWERY BRANCH — When the Tennessee Titans were here to practice two weeks ago, safety Bernard Pollard let everyone know what he thought of the Falcons.

Pollard tried to fire-up his teammates as he ran up and down the sidelines yelling, “They are pretenders. Remember, they are pretenders.”

The Falcons first-team offense didn’t look like pretenders against the Miami Dolphins. They appeared legit.

Against Houston, they looked like pretenders and couldn’t block an elite pass rusher in rookie Jadeveon Clowney.

Now, they’ll have to pass protect with a rookie at left tackle.

Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan (2) is sacked by Houston Texans' Jadeveon Clowney, right, during the first quarter of an NFL preseason football game Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Houston. (AP Photo/Patric Schneider)

Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan (2) is sacked by Houston Texans’ Jadeveon Clowney, right, during the first quarter of an NFL preseason football game Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Houston. (AP Photo/Patric Schneider)

The first-team defense was shaky in both outings and have not looked like contenders.

The special-teams units imploded against Houston, but most of those players likely won’t be on the field on Sept. 7.

Several defensive players said that Miami had success because they didn’t game-plan for the Dolphins.

Against Houston, the excuses and rationales were different, but tackling remained an issue.

The first-team defense won’t have any excuses against Tennessee when they play the third exhibition game, the regular-season dress rehearsal.

“Everyone knows that the third (exhibition) season game is the game when you go through (your) dry run in preparation for the regular season,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said.

Generally, Smith’s teams have played mistake free football and have tackled well until last season.

“We have to find a way to narrow the mistakes and the penalties,” returner Devin Hester said. “We have two more preseason games to try to get this stuff fixed.”

Safety William Moore believes that game-planning for Tennessee will make all of the difference in the world for the defense.

“You have to keep in mind that we didn’t game plan for (the Texans),” Moore said. “(Against Tennessee) we will have the opportunity to game plan and that is very important in the NFL.”

Moore reminded us not to put too much stock in exhibition games.

“There’s not much you can take from a preseason game because you are trying to find which guys will make the roster,” Moore said. “At the same time, we have to come out from the beginning to the end throughout the whole season. No one is going to take it light on us.”

Falcons wide receiver Roddy White also warned the twitter-verse about how much stock to place in exhibition game performances.

“You get nothing out of exhibition games except for a lot of (players) conditioning, what shape they are in, and if they are able to go 60 plays or not,” White said. “You learn how far your young guys have to go, grasping concepts and things you want them to do, but other than that, the veterans go out and play. Everybody just tries to get through this thing and try to stay healthy as possible and make it to game one.”

White was ticked that the Falcons lost left tackle Sam Baker in a meaningless game.

“It’s stuff like that, that tells you a lot about these games,” White said. “I know you can get hurt at practice but playing (meaningless) games and getting your left tackle hurt, I just don’t know. I don’t know what you judge from these preseason games. I’m not a fan (of) them, but we have to play them. So you have to go out and do what you have to do.”

So after Saturday night, we should know if the Falcons are pretenders or contenders.

SECOND EXHIBITION GAME — TEXANS 32, FALCONS 7

Falcons thrashed by Texans, 32-7

5 things we learned from the Falcons’ lost to the Texans

Baker out for season; Matthews likely headed for left tackle spot

Jadeveon Clowney made impact plays against the Falcons

Julio Jones makes 2 catches for 20 yards in his return

VIDEOS

Falcons coach Mike Smith on the loss to the Texans

Falcons QB Matt Ryan on the offense

Falcons RB Devonta Freeman after the loss to the Texans

Falcons CB Robert Alford after the loss to the Texans

TRAINING CAMP SCHEDULE

Date                                         Practice Times (public availability)

Monday, August 18                    Practice 10:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. (closed to the public)

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