FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- While Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan struggled over two series, backup quarterback Matt Schaub put on a passing clinic in the exhibition opener against Washington on Thursday.
Ryan did not move the ball against Washington as he had two three-and-outs and was 0-for-4 passing before he left the game and was replaced by Schaub.
The first-team offense, which included key free-agent signees center Alex Mack and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, was in some tough spots.
"Obviously tough field position to start with, we've got to do a better job of being able to punch that and change the field position," Ryan said of the opening drive, which started at Atlanta's 2-yard line. "It's a great learning experience for us and something we can improve on as we get into practice next week."
Mack's debut went well.
"I thought our offensive line did a nice job," Ryan said. "We've got to make some plays on the outside to keep those drives going and that's something we can improve on, but I think our guys up front did a nice job."
Ryan was undaunted by the performance.
"Just got to get back out there and keep working, that was our first opportunity to go out and do it live," Ryan said. "We weren't as good as we wanted to be, but we've got a long way to go and a lot of time to improve."
Schaub, 35, was 10 of 15 for 179 yards and directed three scoring drives before he gave way to Sean Renfree, who was followed by Matt Simms.
With Schaub as insurance, it's the first time the Falcons have had a former long-term NFL starter in the backup role since they drafted Ryan in 2008. Schaub also comes with the benefit of previous experience in Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's system.
The Falcons paid up to get Schaub, and he gave a glimpse at the benefits of that investment. He had a pair of big plays to wide receiver Aldrick Robinson, a 47- and 68-yard gain.
"It was good to see Matt (Schaub) take a few shots, and that's why he's here, to show that he can do it and for him to be in the rhythm," Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said. "I thought he had a good night. We aren't surprised. He's had a good training camp. He's been a terrific partner with Matt Ryan. We're fortunate we have him here."
The Falcons signed Schaub to a one-year contract for $2.75 million, with $500,000 guaranteed in March. His salary ranks about in the middle of the pack for NFL reserve quarterbacks, but is significantly more than the pay for the last Falcons veteran backup, T.J. Yates, who made $645,000 in 2014.
Last season, Ryan's backup was Renfree, a seventh-round draft pick who made about $590,000. In 2013, it was Dominique Davis, a former college free agent who was paid about $480,000. Veteran Luke McCown made $825,000 in 2012. Chris Redman ($2.55 million in 2011) was the last Falcons reserve quarterback to make significant money for the position.
Only three NFL teams are allocating more 2016 salary-cap dollars to their starting quarterback than the Falcons. Unable to develop a young (and relatively cheap) quarterback behind Ryan, the Falcons decided to pay for the assurance that a veteran such as Schaub provides.
Schaub returns to the Falcons after he served as Michael Vick's backup during the 2004 and 2005 seasons.
"It was good to get back out there," Schaub said. "It was good to be back in the Georgia Dome. My teammates made a lot of great plays, and that was the key. The guys up front protected well."