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Oilers Soar Over Falcons

The Tennessee Oilers were hoping a No. 3 quarterback would begin emerging from their first exhibition game Friday night.

It didn't happen.


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  • two young quarterbacks battling for the spot -- third-year James Ritchey from Stephen F. Austin and rookie Ron Powlus from Notre Dame -- each threw for a touchdown as the Oilers beat the Atlanta Falcons 31-16 in the first exhibition game for each team.

    Tennessee led 7-3 at halftime, but the Oilers' reserves proved to be far superior to Atlanta's reserves, turning the game into a rout in the second half.

    "We came down tonight with a couple of things in mind," Oilers coach Jeff Fisher said. "Number one was to win the football game. Secondly, was to play a lot of people, and that's basically what we accomplished. We did some good things."

    Besides getting scoring passes from three quarterbacks -- starter Steve McNair also threw one -- the Oilers also got a TD from George McCullough on a 21-yard interception return. McCullough also blocked an extra point.

    "Every defensive back has to make plays," McCullough said. "I was just lucky that the biggest play I made tonight was a pick for a touchdown. I was shocked at first. I kind of paused for a second, then ran the ball in."

    The Oilers, who had lost six consecutive exhibition games, had little trouble winning the matchup of teams that finished last season with 8-8 records by winning seven of their last 11 games.

    "We're disappointed," Falcons linebacker Jessie Tuggle said. "We have to look at the tapes and correct some things. You want to look at a lot of young players but as a veteran you want to sharpen your skills."

    "I was pleased with our first group, both offense and defense, but we did give up some big plays on defense," Falcons coach Dan Reeves said. "I do know we'r a lot further along now than we were last year."

    Ritchey steered the Oilers on a 66-yard drive that started in the third quarter and ended 1:22 into the fourth when he connected on a 31-yard pass with Isaac Byrd, who beat Juran Bolden on the right sideline.

    Powlus hit Kevin Dyson on a 46-yard scoring strike down the left side on the first play after Samari Rolle intercepted a pass by Tony Graziani.

    The Oilers also got a 48-yard field goal from Al Del Greco while Powlus was running the show, but that came after he moved the team only eight yards following Barron Wortham's recovery of an on-side kickoff by the Falcons at the Atlanta 38.

    Both coaches wanted to look at their backup quarterbacks, with Atlanta starter Chris Chandler playing only one quarter and McNair just under a half.

    McNair was 11-of-18 for 101 yards before sitting down for the night when the Oilers took over with only 1:01 left in the first half.

    McNair used 17 plays to take the Oilers 80 yards on a drive that consumed 10:17 and ended on McNair's 2-yard pass to Josh Bradley with 11:17 left in the first half.

    McNair was 6-of-8 for 48 yards in the drive and also had two 6-yard runs.

    Chandler was effective in his one quarter, going 5-of-7 for 72 yards and engineering a 78-yard drive on the first possession of the game.

    In that drive, Chandler connected on passes of 21, 18, 17 and 6 yards before an incompletion on a third down at the Tennessee 4 forced the Falcons to settle for Morten Andersen's 22-yard field goal 4:29 into the game.

    Atlanta's first touchdown came on a 2-yard run by Byron Hanspard with 11:03 left in the game, capping a 73-yard drive in which Graziani completed passes of 21 yards to Jammi German and 37 yards to Kevin Thornal at the Oilers 2. McCullough blocked Andersen's extra point.

    Ken Oxendine scored on a 1-yard run with 4:24 remaining two plays after Graziani dumped a short pass to Gary Downs, who raced 38 yards to the 3.

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