Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan hands off the football to running back Devonta Freeman. UPI/Nell Redmond | License Photo
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The six-game losing streak that haunted Atlanta for the past several months is over, and Falcons players are relieved to have it behind them.
Atlanta used a pair of Shayne Graham field goals in the fourth quarter to outlast the host Jacksonville Jaguars 23-17 Sunday at EverBank Field. It was the Falcons' first win since a 10-7 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 25.
The Falcons had been close a number of times during their losing streak, dropping games by one, three (twice) and four points. Even in their latest outing, there was a concern when Jacksonville got the ball a final time with less than two minutes remaining and trailing by the six points. But the Falcons defense stiffened and forced the Jaguars to turn the ball over on downs at their own 41.
Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan admitted some doubts might have crept into the minds of the Falcons during the hectic fourth quarter.
"Yeah, absolutely, it's very difficult not to allow doubt to happen when we haven't had success the last couple of weeks or the last two months," Ryan said. "But I didn't feel that from anybody today. The reason you are so proud and you're so pumped up for the other guys, is we know how easy it is to doubt yourself in those situations. But I didn't sense that from anyone today and I think that's why we won."
The game was tied at 17-17 entering the fourth quarter before Graham connected on a 33-yard kick with just over 10 minutes left. He then increased the lead to six points when he hit from 46 yards out with 1:42 left in the game.
Jacksonville had its final chance to score the winning touchdown but after a 30-yard completion to wide receiver Marqise Lee and a 7-yarder to tight end Julius Thomas put the ball near midfield, the Jaguars could not push it any further.
The Jaguars fell to 5-9 and all but took themselves out of playoff consideration in the AFC South Division. The Jaguars are still mathematically alive to win the division title, but would need lowly Tennessee to beat both Houston and Indianapolis in the final two weeks of the season while the Jaguars win their two remaining games. With just the two games left this season, don't look for any changes or goal readjustments at this stage, Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said.
"I think we go into this next game and say we've got to learn from this game and we've got to figure out how to start faster and more consistent on special teams defensively, look at our third downs and get that corrected for the next game," Bradley said. "That would be the message."
Atlanta took the opening drive and marched 80 yards in eight plays with Ryan completing six passes for 72 yards. Running back Devonta Freeman completed the scoring drive with a 5-yard run, the Falcons first rushing touchdown since Week 6.
The Falcons were held in check in their next three series, but midway in the second quarter, they put together another lengthy drive. It covered 81 yards in 11 plays with Ryan teaming with wide receiver Julio Jones from 11 yards out for the score. It was Jones' first touchdown in four games.
Jones finished the game with nine catches for 118 yards to establish a franchise record of 118 receptions in a single season. That broke the team mark of teammate Roddy White, who had 115 in 2010.
Was Jones ecstatic about setting the record?
"Nothing. It means nothing to me," Jones said when asked about his entry into the Falcons record book. "It's just numbers. I go out there to try and help my team win. Roddy has been like a mentor to me. Records are made to be broken. One of these young guys on our team will probably break mine."
Jacksonville's offense, which had scored 90 points the last two weeks, showed little spark for much of the first half. Their only score came on a 42-yard field goal by Jason Myers.
The Jaguars looked like they would score their first touchdown of the half when they marched down to the 1-yard line with 11 seconds remaining. But on the next play, quarterback Blake Bortles' pass was intercepted by Kemal Ishmael at the goal line. He returned the ball 84 yards before Bortles tripped him up to prevent a touchdown.
After reviewing the play, officials ruled there was two seconds left in the half. Graham kicked a 34-yard field goal as the half ended with the Falcons up 17-3.
Jacksonville scored on the opening possession of the second half, using pass completions of 25, 22 and 17 yards to three different receivers in marching down to the 1-yard line. Bortles then rolled to the left and went into the end zone untouched for the score to reduce the Falcons lead to 17-10.
It didn't take the Jaguars long to tie it up. Linebacker Paul Posluszny intercepted a tipped pass by Ryan on Atlanta's next possession, and the Jaguars took over at the Atlanta 39. Six plays later Bortles teamed with wide receiver Allen Robinson on a 10-yard scoring pass.
Bortles was 23-of-38 for 297 yards, one touchdown and the one costly interception. He later talked about how deflating the interception was.
"It was tough. You get a chance like that right before the half to put up seven points and get back in the game," he said. "Obviously it hurts but the guys did a really good job bouncing back and scoring on our first possession of the second half. Taking care of the ball...we were definitely lacking that today."
NOTES: Atlanta's touchdown on its initial drive was the first time that the Falcons had scored a touchdown on its opening drive this season. ... Jaguars QB Blake Bortles' third-quarter touchdown pass added to his team record of 31 TD passes in a season. The previous high had been 23 by David Garard in 2010. ... Jason Myers' 42-yard field goal in the second quarter was his 11th consecutive made field goal. But Myers also leads the NFL in missed extra points with seven.