The Atlanta Falcons finished off their 2016 preseason with a win by defeating the Jacksonville Jaguars 17-15 in the Georgia Dome. The Falcons played their starters a minimal amount before giving way to most of their reserves on the bubble, who are trying to fight for one of the team’s final 53 roster spots. Cuts will be made this weekend as the team prepares for their regular-season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on September 11.
Quarterback Matt Ryan managed a single snap, handing the ball off to running back Devonta Freeman before giving way to Matt Schaub for a series. Schaub completed his only pass for five yards before Matt Simms played the remainder of the game. Simms passed for 217 yards while completing 16 of 23 passes with a pair of interceptions off tipped passes. Simms also rushed for 25 yards on six carries.
Freeman’s lone carry went for three yards before he too was yanked from the game. The team then gave Tevin Coleman one carry before he was pulled, as he gained five yards. Terron Ward saw the remainder of the work, despite tweaking his previously injured ankle. Ward still managed to lead the team with 62 rushing yards on 22 carries while also scoring both of the team’s touchdowns. Wide receiver J.D. McKissic got some late reps at running back, but managed to lose two yards on his only carry.
Nick Williams led the receivers with four catches for 61 yards, while McKissic also shined with three catches for 47 yards. Aldrick Robinson had a pair of early receptions for 21 yards and Corey Washington had a big 48-yard grab, his only of the night. Tight end Austin Hooper finished the game with just one catch for eight yards despite multiple targets, with two of them being the tipped passes that led to Simms’ interceptions.
Kicker Matt Bryant nailed a 27-yard field goal at the end of the first half, while Shayne Graham missed his lone 32-yard attempt in the second half. Matt Bosher got plenty of work with four punts for an average of 49.0 yards with one placed inside the 20-yard line. Williams returned his lone punt for 25 yards, while McKissic had a single return for eight yards.
The Falcons looked sharper in the first half, scoring all of their points in the first two quarters of the game. But they finished with 315 total yards, converting just three of 10 third-down attempts. The team finished with a trio of turnovers, including the two aforementioned interceptions along with a lost fumble by Simms on a botched exchange between him and Ward.
Defensively the Falcons gave up just 273 yards with the Jaguars only converting three of 11 third-down attempts. The Jaguars did gain 127 yards on the ground but were held to 146 passing yards. The Falcons managed a pair of turnovers with an interception and recovered fumble on special teams.
Cornerback Akeem King led the team with six tackles while also adding a pass breakup. Defensive end Nordly Capi (five tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack); safety DaShon Goldson (three tackles); defensive end Malliciah Goodman (three tackles, one tackle for loss); defensive tackle Cory Johnson (two tackles); cornerback Devonte Johnson (one tackle, one fumble recovery); defensive tackle Joey Mbu (four tackles); safety Sharrod Neasman (four tackles, one pass breakup); linebacker Tyler Starr (one tackle, one quarterback hit); safety Robenson Therezie (one tackle, one interception); defensive tackle Courtney Upshaw (five tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack) and linebacker Philip Wheeler (four tackles) all had notable performances.
The Jaguars began the game with an attempted reverse to former Falcons wide receiver Shane Wynn on their first play from scrimmage, but defensive end Vic Beasley came unblocked off the edge to disrupt the play and linebacker Deion Jones finished it off with a tackle that resulted in a six-yard loss. Jaguars quarterback Brandon Allen’s pass on second down went through the hands of tight end Neal Sterling with Neasman in on the tight coverage. Then linebacker De’Vondre Campbell was abl to chase down running back Denard Robinson in the flat after a six-yard gain to get the stop on third down to force a quick Jaguars three-and-out and punt.
Ryan took the field and proceeded to hand the ball off to Freeman for a three-yard gain with both starters exiting the game immediately. Schaub entered and then handed it off to Coleman, who gained five yards on a sweep. A false start by tight end Jacob Tamme on the next play pushed the team back five yards to force a 3rd-and-7. Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack made his third tackle of the series with a nice open-field stop of wide receiver Mohamed Sanu after he gained five yards to force a Falcons three-and-out and punt of their own.
The Jaguars fed Robinson to start their next drive with three runs for a combined 15 yards to get the ball into Falcons territory. Then Allen hit wide receiver Shaq Evans for a 20-yard gain on a back-shoulder throw. Robinson then gained nine more yards on a screen pass before being chased down by Wheeler. But an offensive pass interference call negated the gain, pushing the Jaguars back 10 yards. A draw play to running back Joe Banyard two plays later gained 19 yards and the Jaguars got a first down and their lost yardage back. But Goodman got penetration on the next play by pancaking the Jaguars tight end and wrapping up Banyard in the backfield for a two-yard loss. Then Jonathan Babineaux got penetration of his own for a two-yard loss on Banyard to force a 3rd-and-14 from the Falcons 25-yard line. Evans beat Falcons cornerback Akeem King on a skinny post for a 25-yard touchdown and the Jaguars had an early 7-0 lead with 4:28 left in the first quarter.
Simms entered the game on the next possession and he fed Ward on the first two plays, who gained a combined six yards on a carry and catch. Then on 3rd-and-4, Simms hit Hooper over the middle but the pass tipped off his hands and into the arms of a diving Jaguars defender, cornerback Josh Johnson. The Jaguars took over at the Falcons 44-yard line with 3:11 left in the first quarter.
Allen attempted a deep throw to Wynn to start off the possession, but overthrew his receiver who sneaked past cornerback C.J. Goodwin. Two plays later on 3rd-and-5, Capi delivered a hit on Allen resulting in another overthrow to wide receiver Bryan Walters. The Jaguars attempted a long 57-yard field goal from Jason Myers, but the kick sailed wide right. Atlanta took over at their own 47-yard line with 2:14 left in the quarter.
Ward was bottled up for a two-yard loss on first down on a stretch play. But then Simms connected with Aldrick Robinson on a pair of passes for a combined 21 yards, including an excellent adjustment on a quick slant for 12 yards to convert a 3rd-and-3. On the last play of the first quarter, Ward gained four yards on a run up the middle. Simms then hit Justin Hardy on a quick out for an 11-yard gain to start the second quarter. Off a play-action bootleg, Simms found a wide open receiver in fullback Will Ratelle, who rumbled 15 yards before he was dragged down from behind by Jack. Ratelle injured his ankle on the tackle and exited the game, but managed to put the Falcons at the Jaguars four-yard line before he did. Ward was stuffed on his first run but scored on a three-yard run on his second to tie the game 7-7 with 13:20 left in the second quarter after an eight-play, 53-yard scoring drive for the Falcons.
On the next Jaguars series, the team was able to convert a 3rd-and-3 to Walters with a five-yard completion against King. Two plays later Banyard found running room on a 15-yard carry thanks to a missed tackle by Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. But Upshaw got back nine yards on the next play when he dropped Allen for a sack. Starr delivered a hit on Allen on the next play, but he still managed to deliver a completed pass to Walters, who made cornerback Brian Poole miss to gain seven yards. On the ensuing 3rd-and-12, Walters was wide open on a deep pass but Therezie managed to make a leaping grab underneath to pick off the pass, potentially save a touchdown and return it 23 yards to get it back to the Jaguars 42-yard line. With 8:07 left in the first half, the Falcons regained possession.
However they did nothing with it as on the second play, Simms tried to find Hooper again over the middle, but the ball once again tipped off his oustretched hands into the arms of Jaguars cornerback Nick Marshall. After a 13-yard interception return, the Jaguars had the ball right back at their 44-yard line.
But the Falcons defense clamped down with Weatherspoon wrapping up Robinson in the hole for a two-yard gain on first down. Allen’s next pass to tight end Braeden Bowman tipped off his hands for an incompletion. Then on 3rd-and-8, King was step-for-step with Evans on a deep throw to break it up and force another Jaguars punt.
To start their next series, Simms hit Nick Williams on a deep cross off play action for 23 yards. Then on another rollout, Simms connected again with Williams on the next play for another 23-yard gain. Off another rollout, Simms missed on a throw to McKissic near the sideline. Ward gained 10 yards on a sweep on the next play, but it was called back due to a holding penalty against offensive tackle Tom Compton. The team was pushed back even further by a holding call on guard Wes Schweitzer on the next play. On the ensuing 3rd-and-26, a four-yard draw to Ward got them nowhere close to the sticks and the Falcons punted it back to the Jaguars with 3:39 left in the first half.
Upshaw did a nice job getting a stuff on first down, wrapping up Jaguars running back Corey Grant for no gain. But Grant gained 14 yards on his next carry on a draw play thanks to multiple missed tackles from the Falcons defenders. But two plays later on 3rd-and-1, Starr batted down a pass to force the Jaguars to punt. Williams then made a couple of moves on the return, gaining 25 yards just as the two-minute warning hit and starting the next Falcons drive at their 45-yard line.
An eight-yard scramble on first down from Simms got the ball into Jaguars territory to start the next possession. Two plays later he dialed up a deep shot to McKissic down the sideline, who did an excellent job getting both feet down before falling out of bounds for a 25-yard gain to put the ball into the red zone. Ward gained nine yards on the next run, putting a nice spin move on a Jaguars defender, but managed to tweak his previously injured ankle on the run. The Falcons called their first timeout with 33 seconds left on the first-half clock. A quick slant to McKissic got the team nine more yards and put the ball down at the one-yard line before they called another timeout with 14 seconds left. Ward finished off the drive with a one-yard diving run into the end zone to push Atlanta’s lead to 14-7 after a six-play, 55-yard scoring drive.
On the ensuing kickoff, Jaguars cornerback Josh Johnson slipped on his return and fumbled the ball. Falcons cornerback Devonte Johnson fell on the loose ball at the nine-yard line with five seconds left on the clock. Bryant trotted onto the field to make the 27-yard field goal to push Atlanta’s lead to 17-7 with the first-half clock expiring.
The Falcons got the ball to start the second half, but Ward tripped on his first-down carry for no gain. Simms then missed on a throw to McKissic on second down before a four-yard scramble on third down. After a three-and-out the Falcons punted and the Jaguars took over at their 16-yard line on their first possession of the second half.
The Falcons defense responded by forcing a three-and-out of their own with King making a nice two-yard stop on 3rd-and-3 on a shallow crossing pattern.
Ward found space on his next run up the middle, gaining 20 yards but another holding call wiped out much of the gain. This time the flag was thrown on wide receiver Corey Washington. Two more Ward runs were dropped for loss and the Falcons were pushed back even further by a holding call on center Mike Person. But on the ensuing 2nd-and-21, Washington redeemed himself by slipping into a soft spot in the Jaguars’ zone coverage for a 48-yard catch and run. That put the ball deep into Jaguars territory at their 28-yard line. Simms gained eight more yards on the ground thanks to a run off a read-option play. Three plays later, Simms overthrew Hooper in the end zone to set up a 3rd-and-11 from the 17-yard line. This time he connected with Hooper over the middle but it resulted in only an eight-yard gain and the Falcons were forced to settle for a field goal from Shayne Graham. After a delay of game penalty pushed the team back five yards, Graham’s 32-yard field goal was shanked wide left and the Falcons were left with nothing after an eight-play, 61-yard drive.
The Jaguars took over at the 22-yard line with 6:10 left in the third quarter. A holding penalty against former Falcons center Jacques McClendon got the Jaguars off to a rough start on first down. But they gained it back with a 19-yard run by Grant on a sweep with Therezie delivering a big hit as he was going out of bounds. Therezie drew a taunting penalty after the play for standing over the downed Grant, tacking on another 15 yards on the play and putting the ball near midfield. The Jaguars were in Falcons territory two plays later after a nine-yard curl route by Evans beat King. Joey Mbu and Malliciah Goodman got penetration on the next play, stopping Banyard in the backfield for a one-yard loss but Mbu exited the game with an injury. On the next play, Allen hit wideout Rashad Lawrence for a 15-yard gain but it was wiped out by a late hit on Starr by offensive tackle Chris Reed while he was trying to clear the pile. Allen went back to Lawrence on the next play for a 12-yard gain before connecting with Grant on a checkdown over the middle for seven yards. Two players later linebacker LaRoy Reynolds came unblocked up the middle but was spun off a tackle by Grant, who gained 11 yards to put the ball at the Falcons four-yard line. On the next play, Wheeler and safety Damian Parms combined to make a tackle in the backfield on Grant for a one-yard loss as the third quarter came to a close.
To start the fourth quarter the Jaguars tried a slant to Wynn on a pick play, which proved effective for a five-yard receiving touchdown. After a two-point conversion in which Neal Sterling beat Jalen Collins on a back-shoulder throw, the Jaguars had cut the Falcons’ lead to 17-15 with 14:57 left in the game.
McKissic entered the game at running back and got a pitch that was dropped for a loss of two yards. Then off a play-action bootleg, Simms ran for six yards on second down to set up a manageable 3rd-and-6. However the checkdown to Ward lost a yard and the Falcons punted after a quick three-and-out. A 17-yard return from Wynn got the Jaguars decent field position to start at their 35-yard line.
Banyard gained 17 yards on first down off a checkdown by making linebacker Matt Wells whiff in the open field. Banyard then rushed for a combined eight yards on his next two carries, setting up a 3rd-and-7 from the Falcons 45-yard line. Allen converted on a back-shoulder throw to Lawrence, who made an excellent grab while slipping to the turf for a nine-yard gain. Pressure by Capi off the edge flushed Allen to scramble for an additional six yards before Capi tripped up Banyard in the backfield for a loss of one yard. Allen then dialed up a throw downfield to Sterling but Parms was in on tight coverage and broke up the throw. Myers attempted another long field goal, this time from 49 yards out. But the kick went wide right and the Falcons had the ball back with 8:12 left in the game at their 39-yard line.
The Falcons tried to milk clock on the ensuing possession with a pair of runs to Ward gaining a combined seven yards to bring up a 3rd-and-3. The Falcons converted thanks to the running after the catch of Nick Williams on a screen pass for a gain of four yards. Two more Ward runs gained seven yards to push the ball into Jaguars territory, bringing about another 3rd-and-3. However the Falcons tried another read-option play and Simms and Ward mishandled the exchange. Jaguars defensive end Tyrone Holmes fell on the loose ball at the Jaguars 45-yard line, giving that team some additional hope with 4:46 left in the game.
Cory Johnson chased down Corey Grant on first down for a loss of three yards but was flagged for a horse-collar tackle, which gifted the Jaguars 15 yards and put them into Falcons territory. However Capi was able to swipe at Allen’s ankle on the next play, tripping him for a sack and a loss of nine yards. Two plays later on 3rd-and-12, Allen missed on a slant to Evans and the Jaguars opted to punt with 3:16 left in the game from the Falcons 42-yard line. Their special teams unit did an excellent job preventing Brad Nortman’s punt from going into the end zone and downed it at the Falcons two-yard line.
With 3:04 left on the clock, the Falcons fed Ward on first down for a gain of three yards, forcing the Jaguars to use one of their three remaining timeouts. McKissic then made a stretching 13-yard grab on a slant to get a first down to keep the clock rolling. Another handoff to Ward up the middle gained no yards as the two-minute warning hit. Simms dialed up a deep shot to Washington off play action, hoping to catch the Jaguars secondary sleeping. But cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun made an excellent defensive play, batting down the pass at the last second to force an incompletion. However on 3rd-and-10, Williams got open on a crossing route for 11 yards and the Falcons had another first down with the clock ticking. The Jaguars opted to halt their attempts to stop the clock and after another run by Ward, the Falcons got into victory formation for one kneel down to end the game.
The Falcons finish the preseason 3-1, their best record in 2007. They will face off at home against the Buccaneers next week, a team that swept them last year. The Falcons have mostly dominated the series since the beginning of the Matt Ryan era in 2008, winning 10 of their last 16 contests. In that span, they are 6-2 at home against the Bucs. The Falcons have also never lost a home opener with Ryan under center with an impressive 11-1 record in home openers dating back to 2004. Over that same span, the Bucs are 4-8 in their first away game of any season and have lost three out of their last four, including a 56-14 shellacking at the hands of the Falcons in 2014. Next week’s game will mark the first game for the Bucs under new head coach Dirk Koetter, who was also the offensive coordinator of the Falcons from 2012 through 2014.