CHAPEL HILL, N.C., AUG. 11 -- With injuries to Fred Stokes and Tracy Rocker, and with Darryl Grant still holding out, the onus of the defensive line's duties fell on Milford Hodge, Pat Swoopes and rookie Kent Wells in the Washington Redskins' preseason opener, against the Atlanta Falcons.

The Falcons won, 31-27, in a game played at the University of North Carolina's Kenan Stadium. It was the first professional football game played in Chapel Hill and was organized by Richardson Sports, Inc., of Charlotte, which hopes to be awarded an NFL franchise.

Hodge, Swoopes and Wells played most of the game.

After watching reserve Falcons quarterback Gilbert Renfroe's three fourth-quarter scoring drives, Washington Coach Joe Gibbs didn't have much praise for his defensive unit.

"We had a lot of big mistakes," Gibbs said. "We've got to be able to protect a lead. We've got a lot of work to do defensively."

Hodge, a 6-foot-3, 278-pounder who came to the Redskins as a Plan B free agent this season after a four-year stint with New England, said the line made no mistakes that can't be corrected in time.

"I think we did a good job, although we can certainly do better," said Hodge, a graduate of Washington State. "I just have to get used to the linebackers making the calls and getting everything down. We all just need to get used to playing together. But we will."

Hodge said fatigue was not a factor in the late stages of the game.

"I knew I'd get a lot of action," he said. "And this was nothing I didn't see with the Patriots. We just did a few things wrong; not many. It's time to put this game behind us and get ready for next week."

Hodge will make his RFK Stadium debut Friday, when the Redskins host to Pittsburgh at 8 p.m.

The 6-foot-3, 280-pound Swoopes, who also came to Washington this season as a Plan B free agent after playing for New Orleans last year, said Renfroe had a lot to do with the Redskins' defensive embarrassment. Renfroe, who played the last four years with Toronto of the Canadian Football League, completed eight of nine passes at one point in the fourth quarter and finished 10 of 15 for 146 yards with no interceptions.

"You've got to give them {the Falcons} credit. They're a good club," Swoopes said. "They used a quick, three-step drop, which we had trouble adjusting to. We didn't have time to get to {Renfroe}, and that put a lot of pressure on our defensive backs.

"I don't think we were too tired; we just weren't prepared. It takes us two steps to see what he's doing, and then on the third step, he's already releasing the ball. We'll just go back and look at the films and learn from our mistakes."

Wells, a rookie out of Nebraska, was taken by Washington in the sixth round of the draft. He said he has performed well to this point and deserved a lot of playing time against the Falcons.

Wells, 6-4, 295, said he played a "typical" first game.

"I made a few mental mistakes, but I'm still learning," he said. "Actually for my first game, I thought I did pretty well. I was really excited. I know I made some mistakes because we lost. I'll just look at the films and do better next week."

Swoopes said he doesn't know when or if Grant will re-join the team, but when he does, the defensive line will be better.

"I don't know his situation, but I can't really worry about it," he said. "I hope he gets what he wants. As a player, I sympathize with him, but we've all got our jobs to do."