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Jets beat Falcons but starters struggle

New York Jets quarterback Bryce Petty throws a

New York Jets quarterback Bryce Petty throws a complete pass in the second quarter in an NFL preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. Photo Credit: Steven Ryan

Here's what we know after 60 minutes of preseason play Friday night: the Jets' backups are better than the Falcons'.

The Jets treated fans to an emotional roller coaster off head shakes and fist pumps in the preseason home opener. What began as a dismal outing for Todd Bowles' bunch ended up being a spirited contest once Atlanta's backups entered the game and the Jets came away with a 30-22 win.

"I think we started slow. A lot of penalties. Can't do that," said receiver Brandon Marshall, who had four catches for 62 yards. "But I really enjoyed watching the way we finished. Got a chance to get in the end zone and the twos came in and did a better job . . . It was a great start for us, but we definitely left a lot of meat on the bones."

A victory is a victory, even in the preseason. But the somewhat troubling sign is that the Jets starters were outplayed for the second straight game. And somehow penalties and missed tackles -- remnants of the Rex Ryan era -- remain big issues.

"You ain't going to win no ballgames having 17 penalties," Bowles said. "Effort was great, penalties were terrible . . . We're going to work our [butts] off on it and we'll go from there."

Yes, the Jets scored 30 unanswered points. But there were plenty of miscues by their starters, particularly the defense.

The Jets were flagged 10 times in the first half, the biggest culprit being backup tight end Kellen Davis (three). Starting quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons' special-teams unit easily sliced their way through the Jets' porous coverage. And the big plays fans had been waiting to see from Bowles' defense didn't take surface until Ryan and the rest of the starters had exited the game.

The first-team offense, which had a week of preparation with newly named starter Ryan Fitzpatrick, played a total of six series, into the second quarter.

The veteran quarterback, who was forced to start after Geno Smith's jaw was broken by a teammate's punch Aug. 11, went 13-for-19 for 118 yards. Though the unit struggled early on, Fitzpatrick (who also was sacked) found some opportunities against the Falcons' stingy defense. He teamed up with Marshall for two long gains -- first, a 12-yard, first-down catch on their opening drive, then a 30-yard pass in the second quarter that set up a 33-yard touchdown run by Chris Ivory.

Backup quarterback Bryce Petty was 12-for-19 for 168 yards, including a 13-yard TD pass to DeVier Posey.

Marshall also scored on a two-point conversion pass from Fitzpatrick that made it 14-10 in favor of the Falcons with 8:02 to go in the first half.

Ivory ran five times for 36 yards and caught three passes for 20 yards. Said Marshall: "The offense starts with Chris Ivory and the hogs up front."

But the night's breakout performance belonged to rookie defensive end Leonard Williams, who had 1.5 sacks (including a safety), five tackles, three QB hits and three tackles for a loss.

"He's so young, he doesn't realize the potential he actually has," right guard Willie Colon said of Leonard, who goes by the nickname "Big Cat." "He has that Richard Seymour-type body, that prototype [body] and sky's the limit for the kid."

The rest of the defensive starters were a different story.

It took Atlanta just two series to take a 14-0 advantage against the Jets starters. On the Falcons' second drive, Ryan hit running back Tarron Ward on a 60-yard catch-and-run. A questionable holding penalty on Darrelle Revis put Atlanta on the Jets' 4-yard line and Ward easily scampered in on the next play.

Return-man Devin Hester's 59-yard punt return on the next Falcons drive helped set up a 2-yard TD pass from Ryan to Leonard Hankerson.

"That was a bust in communication," Bowles said of the Hankerson score.

After last week's 23-3 loss to the Lions, Bowles said he hoped to see "a more polished" performance Friday night. Instead, he saw a tale of two quarters, and two teams.

Colon said Bowles made a point to address the first-half penalties. "We can't beat ourselves, especially when we're trying to play team football," the Bronx-born Hofstra alum said. "But penalties have got to go down, you can't have 10 penalties in the first half and expect to win."

The Jets' backups gave them something to smile about.

Backup safety Rontez Miles scored on a 57-yard fumble recovery to make it 30-14. Kicker Nick Folk connected on field goals of 36 and 29 yards.

Notes & quotes: Three Jets suffered concussions: Receiver Jeremy Kerley, running back Daryl Richardson and defensive back Durrell Eskridge . . . Receiver Shaq Evans (back sprain, offensive lineman Ben Ijalana (knee) and cornerback Dashaun Phillips (ribs) also left with injuries . . . Quarterback Geno Smith (broken jaw) was spotted watching the game in one of the Jets' suites at MetLife Stadium, along with injured defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson (hamstring), receiver Devin Smith (ribs), cornerback Dee Milliner (wrist), offensive lineman James Brewer (back). Bowles said earlier this week that injured players can't be on the sideline.

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