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Miami Dolphins receiver Francis Owusu catches a touchdown over Atlanta's Deron Washington during Thursday's preseason game. (Source: Chuck Bethel/Football Hotbed)

Dolphins Rally To Defeat Atlanta In Preseason Opener, Rookie McMillan Injured


Always take preseason football with a grain of salt. Nothing is either that good or that bad.

Thanks to a pair of fourth quarter touchdown passes by No. 3 quarterback David Fales, The Dolphins won their preseason opener, taking down the defending NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons 23-20 Thursday night at Hard Rock Stadium.

But Miami’s concern is the status of rookie linebacker Raekwon McMillian. McMillan injured his knee during the first three minutes of the first quarter while on punt coverage and was taken to the sideline and then the locker room. The team originally listed McMillian’s status as questionable but downgraded him to out during the second half.

Big Plays Late

Trailing 20-10 going into the fourth quarter, Miami cut into its deficit when Fales evaded a pass rush and connected with Francis Owusu on a 17-yard pass. The Dolphins missed the ensuing two-point conversion and were left trailing 20-16.

Miami forced a punt, which was downed on its own 1-yard line. Fins rookie receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow took that as an opportunity to show off his wheels when he caught a pass over the top of the Falcons defense and outran Atlanta defenders for a 99-yard touchdown.

The teams traded fruitless drives over the final eight minutes and exemplified what most expect to see from NFL preseason football.

Fales, who played the entire second half, finished the game 8-for-17 with 184 yards and the scores to Owusu and Stringfellow. The undrafted receiver from Ole Miss finished with a game-high 116 yards on two receptions and Owusu had two catches for 45 yards. Kenyan Drake led the team in rushing with 21 yards on 4 carries – all of which came in the second half.

Quarterback Matt Moore played just one series – completing a 5-yard pass to DeVante Parker – for Miami and newly signed signal caller Jay Cutler didn’t even suit up.

Second-year quarterback and North Broward Prep High alum Brandon Doughty got majority of the first half work – completing 7 of his 12 passes for 69 yards with a 33-yard touchdown to Leonte Carroo and a second quarter interception.

Atlanta played its Pro Bowl duo of quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Devonta Freeman, who recently signed a 5-year, $41.25 million contract extension, for just one series – but that those five plays resulted in a 15-yard touchdown pass from Ryan to Freeman that gave the Falcons a 7-0 lead.

McMillan Status Unclear; Aikens Hurt

It could’ve just been bad luck for McMillian – getting hurt three minutes into his first game as a professional football player.

Like most rookies will, McMillian was playing special teams and was pushed into a pile during the punt return and appeared to roll awkwardly. Trainers tended to the 6-foot-2, 245-pound Ohio State alum on the field briefly before he walked to the sideline under his own power.

McMillian, whom the team drafted in the second round (54th overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft, was listed as the starting middle linebacker on Thursday’s depth chart and was having a productive training camp and seemed destined to the full-time No. 1 spot.

Social media began to buzz when unofficial reports came out saying the McMillan had sustained a torn ACL.

After the game, Coach Gase was still non-committal and reserved about McMillan’s status.

“It’s tough to see a young player go down,” Gase said.

Beyond that, Gase reiterated his halftime sentiments about not knowing the severity of McMillan’s injury.

“I still don’t know exactly what the injury is…[it’s] some kind of knee injury. I’ll find out more,” Gase said at halftime.

If McMillan, who left the locker room on crutches, has sustained a significant injury to his knee, it will deal a tangible blow to Miami’s linebacker corps. If he misses significant time, the Dolphins could opt to move either Lawrence Timmons – who played middle linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers for 10 seasons before he signed Miami this past offseason – or Kiko Alonso to the middle.

The team also has Mike Hull, a former undrafted player who has one start on his two-year career resume.

The team also reported that backup safety Walt Aikens sustained a back injury during the early parts of the game and he did not return. His status is still unknown.

South Florida Ties

Before the Dolphins drafted former Brandon Doughty in the seventh round of the 2016 draft, he was putting up almost video game-like numbers at Western Kentucky.

A three-star prospect coming out of North Broward Prep, Doughty threw for 12,855 yards and 111 touchdowns while playing for the Hilltoppers – including leading the nation in completion percentage (71.9%) and touchdowns (48) during his senior year.

“I give myself a C,” Doughty said postgame. “I’ll remember than interception more than I’ll remember the touchdown, just because you can’t make bad decisions out there. You can make a bad play worse. I’ll learn from watching the film and I’ll move on.”

Dolphins receivers and former Miami Hurricanes Malcolm Lewis and Rashawn Scott did not play in Thursday’s game. It appeared that neither suited up. Both players were undrafted rookie signees over the past two years respectively. Scott has been dealing with a foot injury since early June – an unfortunate circumstance after he worked his way onto Miami’s 53-man roster during the 2016 season.

Miami Central High coaches were seen at Thursday’s game in support of Rockets alum Devonta Freeman. Freeman helped lead Central to the Class 6A state title in 2010 before going on to star at Florida State.

Freeman recently became the NFL’s highest paid running back after signing a 5-year extension, which was negotiated by his agent Kristin Campbell – the wife of former 2 Live Crew front man and South Florida football coach Luther Campbell.

Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn said Freeman is a big part of the team’s future.

“We’re thrilled to get this deal done, knowing what a significant factor he is for us,” Quinn said Thursday.

The Falcons roster has its fair share of South Florida connects with 5-year veteran safety Kemal Ishmael (from North Miami Beach High) and 2017 undrafted rookie free agent linebacker Jermaine Grace (from Miramar High).

Grace’s college career at the University of Miami was derailed when he – and Al-Quadin Muhammad – was dismissed from the Hurricanes program for violating NCAA rules regarding impermissible benefits.

Word out of Falcons training camp is that Grace has impressed coaches and was receiving reps with the No. 1 defense. He played most of the second half in Thursday’s game and appears to be on the road to latching on with the Falcons.

About J.T. Wilcox

J.T. Wilcox is an award-winning sports journalist that has worked in South Florida for more than a decade. He authors "The Bald Predictions" Blog and "The Baldcast" Podcast. J.T. Wilcox joined the Football Hotbed staff in 2017.

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