Falcons beat Jaguars 23-17, end 6-game losing streak
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Matt Ryan would have understood if his Atlanta teammates doubted whether they would hold on against Jacksonville.
After all, the Falcons had dropped six in a row and seven of eight and blown several late leads along the way. But Ryan felt like the team was confident down the stretch, calling it the key to Atlanta's first win in nearly two months.
Julio Jones set the franchise record for receptions in a season, and the Falcons ended a six-game skid with a 23-17 victory against the Jaguars on Sunday.
''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, and I think that's why we won.''
Jones was a huge factor, too. He finished with nine receptions for 118 yards and his first touchdown in seven weeks. He now has 118 catches, breaking teammate Roddy White's mark of 115 set in 2010.
''The record means nothing, nothing,'' Jones said. ''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 will probably break mine.''
The Falcons (7-7) had lost six straight and even had some wondering whether they had given up after losing 38-0 last week at Carolina. But they showed resiliency against Jacksonville and won for the first time since Oct. 25.
The Jaguars (5-9), meanwhile, lost ground in the muddled AFC South and were all but eliminated in the division race.
Jacksonville had all the momentum Sunday after tying the game with consecutive touchdowns to start the second half. Blake Bortles, rebounding from a costly turnover just before the break, ran for a touchdown to cut the lead to single digits. He followed with a 10-yard TD pass to Allen Robinson to knot things up at 17.
Bortles' 31st touchdown pass of the season and 13th to Robinson had Jacksonville in position to be the latest to deal Atlanta a defeat.
But Ryan and the Falcons responded, getting a pair of field goals in the final frame. They used a 31-yard pass interference penalty to set up a 33-yard field goal with about 10 minutes remaining, and then Shayne Graham added a 46-yarder with 1:42 remaining.
''When it comes down to it, those missed opportunities - whether it's fumbles or whatever it is - are haunting us right now,'' said Jaguars receiver Allen Hurns.
Ryan completed 22 of 35 passes for 246 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. Devonta Freeman ran for 56 yards and scored for the first time since Week 6.
Jacksonville had a final chance and looked like it might pull off the comeback when Marqise Lee made a juggling catch down the sideline. But Bortles overthrew Hurns down the middle of the field on third down and then misfired to Robinson on fourth down.
''Probably for a touchdown to win it,'' Bortles said of the pass to Hurns. ''Just missed him.''
The biggest miss came on the penultimate play of the first half.
The Jaguars moved the ball 87 yards in less than 2 minutes and had first-and-goal at the 1. Bortles stared down tight end Marcedes Lewis in the end zone, and when he finally threw it, safety Kemal Ishmael stepped in front and intercepted the pass.
Ishmael scampered down the sideline and looked like he might score, but Bortles managed to tackle him at the 16-yard line. Initially, it appeared that the clock ran out on the return. But officials reviewed the play and put 2 seconds back on the clock, allowing Graham to end the half with a 34-yard field goal that put Atlanta up 17-3 and on their way to ending the six-game slide.
''This was huge,'' Ryan said. ''It's been tough. It's been difficult. The only way to get out of it is to keep working hard, keep grinding. Everybody has continued to do that, and that's why it feels so good to get the win.''
NOTES: Falcons scored on their opening possession for the first time this season. ... Freeman's 10th rushing touchdown of the season was his first since Week 6. ... Jaguars have helped end four losing streaks this season: Tampa Bay and Tennessee snapped 11-game skids at home against Jacksonville, and San Diego ended a six-game slide against the Jaguars last month.
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