Jacksonville’s quarterback competition turned out to be a stalemate against Atlanta.
David Garrard did little to solidify his starting spot and rookie Blaine Gabbert had his receivers let him down as the Jaguars beat the Falcons 15-13 Friday night.
Garrard completed 7 of 12 passes for 99 yards, with an interception in three series. Gabbert, the 10th pick in the April draft, completed 11 of 23 passes for 96 yards in seven series, but was plagued by several drops, including three on one second-half series that forced the Jaguars to settle for a 54-yard field goal.
Matt Ryan’s receiving corps had similar issues, but Harry Douglas turned a short crossing route into a 76-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Ryan finished 7 of 15 for 116 yards.
Ryan played the entire first half as Atlanta built a 10-3 lead. Michael Turner ran seven times for 14 yards, and Roddy White had a 13-yard reception. Douglas caught two passes for 87 yards.
Ryan led the Falcons to a field goal on the team’s opening drive.
Jacksonville’s first two drives ended with turnovers. Garrard badly overthrew Mike Thomas on the opening series. Cornerback Brent Grimes was the only one in the vicinity. He picked it off in the end zone and returned it 62 yards, setting up Matt Bryant’s 34-yard field goal.
”I was telling the guys earlier that we were moving the ball great, but we just have to put points on the board,” Garrard said. ”We have to convert when we get in the red zone.”
Rookie Cecil Shorts bobbled a handoff from Garrard on an end around, giving the Falcons the ball and great field position.
”This is the same thing we were dealing with last year with turning the ball over and having bad penalties,” tight end Marcedes Lewis said. ”We can’t keep doing that. It’s about mental toughness and we have to continue to grow as a team. We have to make those corrections and stop shooting ourselves in the foot. But I would rather have it happen now than in the regular season.”
Ryan couldn’t capitalize on the second turnover, though. Jeremy Mincey pressured Ryan into intentional grounding on third down, essentially ending the drive.
Mincey, still dealing with the death of a childhood friend, posed all sorts of problems for the Falcons.
”When he’s on his keys and knows what he is doing, he’s unblockable,” teammate Aaron Kampman said. ”I think he’s going to have a great year.”
Ryan had Mincey in his face on several plays. He looked much better when he got time and found Douglas across the middle. Douglas beat Jacksonville’s new nickel back, Drew Coleman, and outran several defenders to the end zone.
It was Atlanta’s play of the night.
Third-string quarterback Luke McCown provided Jacksonville’s top highlight. McCown connected with Armon Binns in the corner of the end zone for a 12-yard score with 6:19 remaining. That put the Jaguars ahead 15-13. McCown missed a wide open receiver on the two-point conversion, silencing any talk about him getting into the quarterback competition.
That’s for Garrard and Gabbert to decide, and it could come down to the final two preseason games.
The Jaguars could have running back Maurice Jones-Drew and defensive end Aaron Kampman back for next week’s game at Buffalo. Both players are recovering from knee surgery, and the team is being cautious by keeping them out of contract situations.
Tight end Zach Miller (knee), right tackle Eben Britton (back), running back Rashad Jennings (concussion), linebacker Clint Session (concussion) also sat out against Atlanta.
The Falcons played without defensive tackle Corey Peters (knee), cornerback Dunta Robinson (hamstring), center Todd McClure (rest) and newly signed tight end Reggie Kelly. Defensive end Ray Edwards, one of the team’s top free agent acquisitions, sat out for the second consecutive game.
Falcons defensive end Lawrence Sidbury left the game with an ankle injury, but it didn’t appear serious.
Jaguars running back Deji Karim sustained a concussion in the first half and didn’t return.