MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Dee Alford played college football at a small school in Tusculum, Tennessee, and spent two years in the Canadian Football League before signing with the Atlanta Falcons last year. He didn’t even know at the time if he’d make the team’s 53-man roster.
On Friday night, Alford scored on a 79-yard punt return in Atlanta’s 19-3 preseason win over the Miami Dolphins — a telling statement that he's starting to feel like he belongs in the NFL.
“I’ve always had the mindset to not get comfortable,” Alford said. “But I do feel like I belong here, and I want to continue to show everyone that I do belong.”
Facing a Dolphins special teams unit that was among the NFL’s worst last season, Alford broke multiple tackles for the touchdown with 4:36 left in the game.
On Miami’s next possession, Skylar Thompson was intercepted by Breon Borders, who returned the pick 26 yards for a touchdown. Younghoe Koo then missed his second extra-point attempt of the game.
Atlanta’s Logan Woodside was 14 of 22 with 146 yards.
“I felt like I was seeing the coverage really well,” Woodside said. “Just trying to get the playmakers the ball in space."
Desmond Ridder, the Falcons' projected starter, didn't play. Ridder, who as a rookie started Atlanta’s final four games last season, has impressed teammates and coaches with his poise and command in his second training camp as he looks to end the Falcons’ streak of five straight losing seasons.
Atlanta coach Arthur Smith said the team’s starters will see action against Cincinnati next week.
Rookie running back Bijan Robinson, the No. 8 overall pick by Atlanta, didn’t play.
Thompson and fellow backup Mike White struggled as Tua Tagovailoa watched from the sideline.
Tagovailoa and most of Miami's regular starters did not suit up after two competitive practices against Atlanta, the first of which Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel called “average.”
“Really competitive. They’re an NFL team. They’ve got really good guys on that side of the ball," Tagovailoa said on Friday's television broadcast. "They made some plays. We made some plays. So, it’s always good to have good back and forth, but there’s a lot of things that were to be corrected.”
White led the Dolphins downfield with a 17-yard pass to Cedrick Wilson Jr. and a 14-yarder to River Cracraft on their opening drive, but was intercepted in the end zone by Falcons rookie safety DeMarcco Hellams on a pass he tried to force in traffic to Tyler Kroft.
Hellams, a seventh-round pick, had a team-high seven tackles and a pass breakup.
White was 9 of 14 with 85 yards in two quarters. He signed a two-year deal with Miami in March and is vying with Thompson for Miami's backup role.
The Dolphins were 0 for 3 in the red zone. White noted that there aren't specific redzone packages in the preseason for those situations.
“Now, that’s not an excuse by any means," he added, "you’ve still got to be able to execute the plays. There’s stuff that we’ve got to do better.”
Thompson, entering his second NFL season, started the second half and went 10 for 16. He was intercepted early in the fourth by Lukas Denis on a pass that was overthrown to receiver Elijah Higgins.
Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said Thompson will be the likely starter when Miami faces Houston next week.
“I think a lot of people would be cut out (of) the league if you overreacted to one game situation,” McDaniel said.
Godwin Igwebuike took a handoff from Woodside in the second quarter and ran into the end zone untouched thanks to a couple good blocks from Atlanta’s offensive line. Igwebuike had 13 carries for 70 yards.
Miami's second-round rookie cornerback Cam Smith had four tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup. He had a key third-down tackle in the red zone in the third quarter, but left with an apparent shoulder injury. McDaniel said the team doesn't yet know the extent of the injury.
De'Von Achane, a third-round rookie, had 10 carries for 25 yards and got reps at kick return.
Thompson led the Dolphins down the field in the fourth for a scoring drive that ended in Jason Sanders' 49-yard field goal that made it 6-3.
Falcons: Hellams left in the fourth with an apparent injury. He was attended to on the field by trainers after a hit.
Dolphins: McDaniel said WR Jaylen Waddle has a midsection injury, but it isn't something that the team thinks will cause him to miss extended time. Waddle suffered the injury during Wedensday's practice. ... WR Robbie Chosen wanted to play, but was held out because of “nagging” injuries. ... WR Braxton Berrios left in the second quarter after taking a big hit on a punt return.
Falcons: Host Cincinnati on Aug. 18.
Dolphins: At Houston on Aug 19.