The Atlanta Falcons preseason record ends at 2-2 with a 24-14 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on the road. The Falcons played mainly their reserves on offense, while the defensive starters did make an appearance for the first two series. The first half was a strong one for the team, which saw the Falcons build a 21-7 halftime lead.
T.J. Yates started the game and performed well in the first half. He completed 15 of 20 passes for 243 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Sean Renfree relieved him and completed nine of 12 passes for 62 yards. On the ground, Devonta Freeman got the bulk of the workload, rushing 12 times for 42 yards and a touchdown. Josh Vaughan added just six yards on five carries. Running back Antone Smith led the team in receiving yards with 72, thanks to a 66-yard touchdown. He finished the game with just two catches. Freeman led the team in receptions with five for 45 yards. Freddie Martino had the team’s other touchdown catch, his lone catch on a 67-yard bomb. Jeremy Ebert added four grabs for 59 yards as well. Matt Bryant hit on his lone field goal try from 27 yards out. Matt Bosher punted nine times for an average of 51.7 yards with three punts placed inside the 20-yard line. Eric Weems, Bernard Reedy and Devin Hester each had a single kickoff return for 22, 20 and 18 yards, respectively. Reedy had four punt returns for 37 yards, while Hester had a single punt return for seven yards. The Falcons were able to generate 340 total yards on the night, and were able to convert five of 16 third-down attempts.
Defensively, the Falcons put the clamps on the Jaguars offense for the most part, only allowing them to convert one of 12 third-down attempts. The Jaguars generated 289 yards of total offense, with just 45 yards on the ground. Falcons were able to sack Jaguars quarterbacks three times, taking advantage of their starters going up against the Jaguars reserve offensive line early. Kemal Ishmael led the team with five tackles. Ricardo Allen (three tackles, one pass defended); Pat Angerer (four tackles); Javier Arenas (four tackles); Malliciah Goodman (one tackle, one sack); Jonathan Massaquoi (two tackles, one sack); Robert McClain (two tackles, one pass defended); Travian Robertson (three tackles, one tackle for loss); Prince Shembo (three tackles, one tackle for loss); and Paul Worrilow (one tackle, one-half sack and two quarterback hits) had noteworthy games.
The Falcons began the game with Yates at quarterback, as he was able to convert his first third-down try on a six-yard pass to Smith. On the next play however, Jacquizz Rodgers was stuffed for a two-yard loss. On the following third down, Yates was dropped for a sack by Ryan Davis and Andre Branch, forcing the Falcons to punt.
But the Jaguars offense struggled with rookie quarterback Blake Bortles at the helm with a quick three-and-out to start the game. The Falcons starting defense was able to overwhelm the Jaguars reserve offensive line, with Paul Worrilow and Kroy Biermann splitting a sack on first down.
The Falcons inserted Renfree into the game, but he too was sacked on his first drop back by Geno Hayes when he tripped when pulling away from the center. After a five-yard scramble on 2nd-and-20, Renfree’s attempted screen to Rodgers on third down was batted down by Tyson Alualu. That led to Bosher’s second punt of the night.
Bortles hit Marcel Jensen on a 21-yard pass to start the next Jaguars drive, but two plays later Worrilow burst up the middle to lay a hit on him. Bortles’ pass was under thrown, and Biermann nearly intercepted it. On third down, Osi Umenyiora got pressure off the edge to force Bortles up into the pocket into the waiting arms of Malliciah Goodman stall another drive.
Yates entered back into the game and hit Ebert on a 28-yard to start things off. After a five-yard loss on a run by Smith set up a 3rd-and-9, Yates found Eric Weems for a 12-yard gain to move the chains. Yates then connected once more with Ebert to put the ball at the Jaguars 11-yard line. It took Freeman three carries to get into the end zone, capping off the drive with a one-yard scoring run. That put the Falcons up 7-0 with two minutes remaining in the first quarter.
The Falcons backup defenders entered the game at that point. McClain broke up a third-down pass from Bortles, but Robertson was flagged for illegal use of hands, which gave Jacksonville a new set of downs with the first quarter coming to a close. The second quarter got off to a rocky start with Marqise Lee beating Josh Wilson for a 57-yard touchdown catch on the first play of the quarter. That tied up the game 7-7.
Three negative plays started off the Falcons ensuing series. Antone Smith was bottled up for a two-yard loss, followed by a false start penalty against Peter Konz. Then Yates was dropped once more by Ryan Davis for a sack near the Falcons own goal line, before the team was forced to punt two plays later.
The Jaguars inserted Stephen Morris into the game to replace Bortles at quarterback. He found Jordan Todman underneath for a 10-yard gain on 3rd-and-12, and the Jaguars opted to go for it on fourth down. But Jonathan Massaquoi chased Morris out of bounds on 4th-and-2 and the Falcons took over at their own 45-yard line with 10:17 left in the half.
The ensuing series did not start well for the Falcons, with a holding call on Lamar Holmes backing them up to 3rd-and-21. Smith turned Yates simple dump-off on a screen into a huge play, breaking a couple of tackles and sprinting 66 yards into the end zone. That pushed the Falcons lead to 14-7 on a three-play scoring drive that lasted only 1:19.
Denard Robinson followed that up with a nice 20-yard gain on the ensuing Jaguars series, but a holding call on Mike Brown called the play back. And three plays later, the Jaguars were punting thanks to Wilson’s pass breakup on third down.
On first down of the ensuing series, Yates threw a 67-yard bomb to Freddie Martino, who got behind the Jaguars defense with a double move for the score. The Falcons lead was opened up to 21-7 with seven minutes left in the half.
The two teams exchanged three-and-outs, with the Jaguars getting a second one before punting it back to the Falcons with less than three minutes remaining in the half.
Freeman had a nice 10-yard gain as the two-minute warning hit on the ensuing drive. Yates then hit six consecutive passes for 37 yards to get the ball to midfield. But the Falcons drive stalled there and they punted it back to the Jaguars with 27 seconds left in the half. The Jaguars ran Todman up the middle for one play before closing out the first half, down 21-7.
The Jaguars offense seemed to get their act together to start the second half, at least being able to convert their first third down of the night and moving the ball to midfield before punting.
Renfree re-entered the game on the ensuing Falcons series at quarterback. His second series fared hardly better than the first with a quick four-and-out before another Bosher punt.
The Falcons got another stop on the ensuing Jaguars series thanks to a pass broken up by Jordan Mabin on third down. Reedy returned the ensuing punt 13 yards, but a pair of penalties on Kimario McFadden backed the Falcons up to their own three-yard line. Vaughan was almost stuffed for a safety at the one-yard line. But the Falcons had a quick three-and-out before punting it back to the Jaguars. On that punt, Ace Sanders returned it 31 yards and got into an altercation with Bosher along the sideline. It drew an unnecessary roughness penalty on the Falcons punter, which gave Jacksonville favorable field position at Atlanta’s 15-yard line. But a botched snap on 3rd-and-7 from the Falcons 12-yard line ended the Jaguars touchdown hopes. An intentional grounding penalty on quarterback Ricky Stanzi backed up the Jaguars even further. Rookie kicker Kasey Redfern’s 51-yard field goal try was pushed wide right and the Jaguars ended with nothing with 2:35 left in the third quarter.
The missed field goal gave Atlanta good field position, starting their next drive at their own 43-yard line. Freeman gained 21 yards on a dump-off from Renfree on the second play of that series. That was followed up by a run and another catch by Freeman for 11 yards to get into the red zone with the third quarter coming to a close. To begin the fourth quarter, Renfree overthrew Weems in the back of the end zone on 3rd-and-4, and Bryant trotted on the field to attempt a 27-yard field goal. Bryant’s kick was good, and the Falcons stretched their lead to 24-7 with 14:15 left in the game.
Following a 34-yard kickoff return by Robinson, a face mask penalty on Tim Dobbins helped get the Jaguars get into Falcons territory. Stanzi hit Mike Brown for a 33-yard catch, beating Allen to get down to the Falcons eight-yard line. But three plays later, Stanzi missed a wide open Kerry Taylor in the back of the end zone. The Jaguars opted to go for it on 4th-and-goal from the five-yard line, and Stanzi once again overthrew his receiver, Todman, on a wheel route.
The Falcons took over at their own five-yard line, and had a quick three-and-out thanks to Dekoda Watson’s sacking of Renfree on third down. Once again Sanders had a big return on Bosher’s punt, this time for 23 yards to set up the Jaguars at the Falcons 41-yard line. After a pair of completions from Stanzi and a nine-yard run by Todman, the Jaguars found themselves in the red zone. Todman finished the drive, first catching a 13-yard screen pass that set up his three-yard scoring run to put Jacksonville back on the scoreboard. They were now down 24-14 with seven minutes to go in the game.
The Falcons proceeded to try and run out the clock from there and were successful in bleeding over three minutes on the ensuing series before Bosher had another punt. The Jaguars took over again with three minutes left in the game, but were unable to move the ball effectively with a four-and-out as the two-minute warning hit.
Freeman ran once for a single yard before Renfree and the Falcons entered victory formation and knelt on the ball twice to end the game and this year’s preseason.
The Falcons will make their final roster decisions this weekend as the league-mandated deadline to get from their current 75-man roster to 53 players hits on Saturday. On Sunday, the Falcons will establish a ten-man practice squad unit.
Next Sunday, the Falcons will return home to Atlanta to face the New Orleans Saints in the regular season. Last season, the Falcons opened up against the Saints on the road and lost in a squeaker by a score of 23-17. The Falcons have struggled to beat the Saints under head coach Mike Smith, who has a career record of 3-9 against them. At home, the Falcons are 2-4 against the Saints under Smith.