Tennessee rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota quickly learned NFL games are different from practice.
Mariota’s first two series ended with an interception and a fumble before he recovered to lead a touchdown drive in the Titans’ 31-24 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in a preseason opener Friday night.
One play after he was sacked early in his first drive, Mariota’s short pass was intercepted by linebacker Justin Durant, whose 20-yard return set up a field goal. On Tennessee’s next drive, the ball slipped out of Mariota’s hand as he was preparing to pass. Linebacker Paul Worrilow scooped up the loose ball and raced 14 yards for a touchdown.
“I just kind of shrugged it off,” Mariota said. “I figured we needed a good drive, and we finished with a good one.”
Mariota regrouped on his third possession. He had two 17-yard completions to former Falcons receiver Harry Douglas and a 26-yard pass to running back Antonio Andrews to set up Dexter McCluster’s six-yard scoring run.
With the assistance of Mariota’s early turnovers, the Falcons led, 17-0, behind new Coach Dan Quinn before the Titans pulled even at 24. Michael Ford’s one-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter snapped the tie.
Atlanta’s Matt Ryan completed all six passes for 86 yards on his only possession, including a 13-yard touchdown to Julio Jones.
Mariota, the No. 2 overall draft pick, went seven for eight for 94 yards. Paul Worrilow returned Mariota’s fumble 14 yards for a touchdown.
“We obviously had a tough start,” said Titans Coach Ken Whisenhunt. “We can’t turn the ball over. … It was disappointing, but I like the way they responded.”
In other exhibitions:
Derek Carr completed three passes to Oakland rookie receiver Amari Cooper on an opening field-goal drive and the Raiders beat the St. Louis Rams, 18-3, in their exhibition opener under new Coach Jack Del Rio. … Brock Osweiler completed 15 of 20 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown, leading Denver to scores on all five first-half possessions as the Broncos opened the preseason with a 22-20 win over the Seattle Seahawks.
Joe Webb’s short pass to running back Brandon Wegher led to a 42-yard touchdown with 54 seconds left and Carolina defeated Buffalo, 25-24, on a two-point conversion. … Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton completed all three of his passes, and the Bengals’ starting offense was impressive in its only drive during a 23-10 win over the New York Giants. Dalton was three for three for 31 yards, including a three-yard touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu.
Ben Roethlisberger threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Martavis Bryant on the opening drive, and Pittsburgh was much more proficient in its second preseason game, despite losing, 23-21 to Jacksonville. The Jaguars (1-0) were the real losers, though. Tight end Julius Thomas injured a finger on his left hand on the team’s second play and did not return.
League warns against fighting
The NFL warned teams about fighting during games in response to inter- and intra-team altercations that have erupted in training camp, including the one that left New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith with a broken jaw.
In a memo obtained by The Associated Press, executive vice president Troy Vincent reminded all 32 teams on Friday that “fighting will not be tolerated.” Vincent asked coaches, general managers and club executives to remind players of the rules, and noted that the prohibition of fighting will be a point of emphasis for officials.
“These rules are in place for the protection and safety of our players and to keep them on the field,” Vincent wrote. “As professionals, no matter how emotional the game becomes, there is nothing that should resort to fighting.”
The memo cited Article 12 of the NFL rules, which prohibits “striking, kicking or kneeing opponents.” The penalty for a violation is 15 yards, with the official given the discretion whether to also eject the player from the game in the case of a flagrant violation.
The memo also cited the 2015 League Policy for Players, which says: “Don’t fight, and if a fight breaks out involving other players, stay away.”’
The Buffalo Bills have released receiver Caleb Holley after reaching an injury settlement with the player.
Holley tore his right hamstring in practice Monday, and was placed on the reserve/injured list a day later. The move was announced Friday, shortly before the Bills opened their preseason hosting Carolina.
Holley spent part of last season on the Bills practice squad, and was re-signed to a future’s contract on Dec. 31.