ATLANTA (AP) — For a Jacksonville team coming off a 2-14 season, any win — even in the preseason — is cause for celebration.
For an Atlanta team that won 13 games last season with a spot in the NFC championship game, the first priority was keeping key players healthy for the regular season.
Falcons coach Mike Smith held out almost all his starters in Thursday night’s 20-16 loss to the Jaguars. So he managed a postgame smile despite his team’s 0-4 record in the games that don’t count.
“Our mindset this year more than anything was to try to get to that game No. 1 as healthy as possible,” Smith said. “We’ve done a pretty good job of doing that.”
Smith said his starters who have missed time with injuries this preseason, including receiver Roddy White (sprained ankle), cornerback Asante Samuel (thigh) and kicker Matt Bryant (back), “are on schedule” to return next week as the Falcons prepare for the opening game at New Orleans.
Most Falcons regulars, including quarterback Matt Ryan, didn’t even wear shoulder pads under their jerseys as their watched from the sideline.
Jacksonville’s Jordan Todman and Atlanta’s Josh Vaughn made strong final bids to win backup jobs by running for touchdowns.
Todman, who appeared in only one game in his 2012 rookie season, was trying to take advantage of the void created when Justin Forsett missed the entire preseason with a toe injury. Todman had nine carries for 60 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown run, in his challenge for a backup job behind Maurice Jones-Drew.
“I feel like I left it all on the field every time that I have had a chance,” Todman said. “Every time that I was out there, I went to the wall.”
Added Todman: “The best part is that we came out here and got a win.”
Vaughn, trying to win a job as Steven Jackson’s backup, had a 65-yard touchdown run for the Falcons, who finished their second winless preseason in three years.
The Falcons also were 0-4 in the 2011 preseason before making the playoffs with a 10-6 record. Atlanta won only one preseason game last year before winning the NFC South with a 13-3 mark.
The Jaguars (1-3) also held out most of their starters.
“It wasn’t perfect at times, but I thought our guys really played hard and you appreciate that,” said Jacksonville first-year coach Gus Bradley.
Todman earned compliments for his play through the preseason.
“We’re excited about his consistency,” Bradley said. “He’s had a good preseason. He ran hard and we’re really pleased with him.”
Mike Kafka, Jacksonville’s third quarterback of the game, threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Ebert early in the fourth quarter to give the Jaguars the lead.
Falcons quarterback Dominique Davis was stopped on a fourth-and-goal run from the 3 with 1:51 remaining. Atlanta’s defense held and the Falcons took possession again at Jacksonville’s 41 with 1:24 remaining. Davis ran for 5 yards before throwing three straight incompletions.
Davis, who played most of the game, completed 18 of 35 passes for 175 yards with an interception.
Vaughn, who played on the Falcons’ practice squad in 2012, provided a rare offensive spark for the Falcons. Atlanta’s only other touchdown came on a sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery and return for a touchdown by defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi in the second quarter.
Davis has spent the preseason as Ryan’s backup, but the Falcons could scan final roster cuts this weekend and add another quarterback. Teams must trim rosters to 53 players by Saturday.
With Blaine Gabbert sidelined by a broken thumb, Chad Henne started at quarterback for Jacksonville and had his second pass intercepted by Falcons rookie cornerback Robert Alford.
Gabbert, already chosen the Jaguars’ starter, is on pace to be cleared for the start of the regular season. Gabbert is expected to have the cast removed from his hand this weekend.
Atlanta’s other rookie cornerback, first-round pick Desmond Trufant, picked off a pass from Chad Scott in the second quarter.
Henne recovered to lead a six-play, 60-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter. Todman cut through the line for an 18-yard touchdown run.
The Jaguars led 10-0 when Massaquoi provided the play of the preseason for Atlanta’s defense. Massaquoi sacked Scott for a loss of 8 yards at the Jaguars 9, forcing a fumble. Massaquoi picked up the fumble and ran in.
Atlanta’s Jeremy Shelley missed the extra point. He was wide right on a 48-yard field goal in the first quarter. Shelley made a 42-yarder late in the first half.
Scott completed 6 of 12 passes for 67 yards with the interception. Henne was 6 of 10 for 56 yards with an interception. Kafka completed 6 of 15 for 46 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.
NOTES: Falcons rookie QB Sean Renfree, a seventh-round pick from Duke, left in the third quarter with a right shoulder injury. … Scott had turnovers on back-to-back possessions, possibly damaging his chances. … CB Demetrius McCray and third-string DE Pannel Egboh had sacks for Jacksonville.