0

Dolphins have 4 turnovers in 19-7 loss to Falcons

ATLANTA - Miami's opener looked a lot like its final game of the previous season.

A bunch of turnovers. Another loss.

The Dolphins gave up the ball four times and were totally stifled by the Atlanta Falcons, who got big contributions from their two biggest offseason acquisitions in a 19-7 win Sunday.

"We have to hold on to the ball. We have to take care of the football. That's our job," Miami coach Tony Sparano said. "You've got to be able to keep the ball. There is no excuse for losing it."

Miami finished last season with a five-turnover loss to Baltimore in the AFC playoffs, ending their run as one of the NFL's most surprising teams. The Dolphins went 1-15 in 2007.

The Falcons also were coming off a pleasantly unexpected season, going 11-5 and making the postseason after a dismal year largely caused by Michael Vick's downfall.

Now, Atlanta is trying to make it two straight winning seasons for the first time in the team's 44-year history.

So far, so good.

Tony Gonzalez, the Falcons' new tight end, caught five passes for a team-high 73 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown that was set up by new Atlanta linebacker Mike Peterson's interception.

Gonzalez made the catch in the flat, cut to the inside while shoving away Yeremiah Bell with his left hand, picked up a nice block from Roddy White and waltzed into the end zone to join the 11,000-yard club. The former college basketball player didn't get a chance to dunk the ball over the goalposts.

"I was going for it, but my teammates were jumping all over me so I didn't have time to get over there," Gonzalez said. "Plus, I was tired. I was just happy to get in the end zone."

The Falcons' defense, highly suspect after letting go of five starters and looking shaky during the preseason, had no trouble against the Dolphins - and came within 3:22 of a shutout.

On the interception, Peterson caught the ball on his fingertips and returned it 39 yards to set up Gonzalez's first TD in Atlanta. Peterson also forced a fumble with a vicious hit on Anthony Fasano. The ball popped loose and another newcomer, Brian Williams, picked up the ball and ran 53 yards to set up a field goal that gave the Falcons a 10-0 halftime lead.

"I tell the guys all the time that I've got the best hands on the team, but they don't believe me," Peterson joked. "Maybe they'll start believing me now."

Ryan faced some heavy pressure but still completed 22 of 36 pass attempts for 229 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He had a 1-yard scoring toss to Ovie Mughelli that gave the Falcons a 7-0 lead in the second quarter.

Miami activated rookie quarterback Pat White and used him in a new version of the wildcat, without much success. He stopped for no gain the first time he attempted to run and overthrew Ted Ginn Jr. on a deep pass after the receiver beat two defenders.

"When the wildcat works, everybody loves it," quarterback Chad Pennington said. "When it doesn't, everybody hates it."

Pennington finally got the Dolphins in the end zone with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Ricky Williams. The quarterback completed 21 of 29, but his throws accounted for only 176 yards. Ronnie Brown was held to 43 yards rushing, while Williams managed 39.

"They didn't give us any deep shots," said Pennington, who was sacked four times. "You have to step up and make sure it doesn't snowball. We let it snowball on us."