BALTIMORE (AP) — Matt Ryan looked sharp, Steven Jackson ran the ball well and the Atlanta defense was exceptional in the first half.
That, more than the final score, is what the Falcons will take out of their 27-23 preseason loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night.
Ryan threw for 97 yards and a touchdown in four series, and the Falcons led by 16 before the Ravens' backups rallied with a 20-point fourth quarter.
Atlanta's starters bounced back nicely from an opening 34-10 loss to Cincinnati one week earlier. Under Ryan's direction, the Falcons pierced Baltimore (2-0) for 11 first downs in 16½ minutes and built a 20-7 lead at halftime.
The defense limited the defending Super Bowl champions to three first downs and 13 yards rushing before halftime — a mere 10 by Ray Rice on eight carries.
"The feel on the sideline was that there were a number of areas that we improved on as a football team," Atlanta coach Mike Smith said. "Players that we're going to be counting on, I think took a big step from Week One to Week Two."
It was 23-7 before Baltimore came back against Atlanta's subs. After Tyrod Taylor threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Tandon Doss to make it 23-20 with 7:52 left, and Asa Jackson scored on a 78-yard punt return with 6:18 remaining.
"We're just happy to come away with the win," Rice said. "Our young guys are really improving. That's special to us."
Ryan went 8 for 15 and threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones.
"We were better this week than we were last, and that's what you want to do in the preseason, you want to continue to get better," Ryan said. "Again, we've got a long way to go, but it was a good start."
Steven Jackson had 42 yards rushing on eight carries against a defensive unit that has seven new starters.
"Having success tonight is great for our confidence," he said. "We've been working on the chemistry between the running back and the offensive line, and we feel the hard work showed tonight."
The Ravens, conversely, were embarrassed by the easy fashion in which the Falcons moved downfield.
"That was not us," Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said at halftime. "That's not how we play. Our fundamentals were not what they should be."
Baltimore's offense wasn't much better. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco played the first half, completing 7 of 9 passes 118 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith.