5 things from Jaguars' and Falcons' preseason
The Jaguars held off the Atlanta Falcons 20-16 on Thursday night for their first preseason win, providing needed encouragement for a team coming off a 2-14 season.
Mike Kafka threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Ebert early in the fourth quarter to give the Jaguars (1-3) the lead. Jordan Todman capped a strong preseason bid to be Maurice Jones-Drew's backup with an 18-yard touchdown run.
The Falcons finished 0-4, but there's ample evidence to shrug off the preseason record as meaningless. The Falcons also were 0-4 in the 2011 preseason before making the playoffs with a 10-6 regular season. Atlanta won only one preseason game last year before winning the NFC South with a 13-3 mark.
Most starters for each team did not play.
The best news for Atlanta is coach Mike Smith says his top players will be healthy for the regular season.
Five things we know from the Jaguars' preseason:
ROOKIE HELP: It's clear the Jaguars found some big-play potential in the draft with Ace Sanders (fourth round) and Denard Robinson (fifth round). Each brings much-needed speed to the offense. Robinson, who ran for 36 yards on his team-leading 12 carries against Atlanta, could develop an expanding role through the season as the Jaguars take advantage of his multi-purpose skills.
MR: CONSISTENCY: Jaguars coach Gus Bradley praised the consistency shown through the preseason by Todman, who ran for a touchdown for the second straight week. With backup Justin Forsett missing the preseason with a toe injury, Todman may have earned more than just a spot on the roster.
QB OR NOT QB: Blaine Gabbert, expected to return from a broken thumb for the start of the regular season, is the Jaguars' starting quarterback. But there's uncertainty behind Gabbert. Chad Henne and Matt Scott each threw interceptions against the Falcons, and Scott also lost a fumble that was returned for an interception. Kafka threw the go-ahead TD pass, but he completed only 6 of 15 passes.
NO PRESSURE: The defense is still in need of a legitimate pass rusher. Cornerback Demetrius McCray and third-string defensive end Pannel Egboh had the only two sacks against Atlanta. The Jaguars claimed Jason Babin off waivers from the Eagles in November, but he is 33 and may not stand up as an every down player. Fellow ends Jeremy Mincey and 2012 second-round pick Andre Branch haven't been consistent.
DON'T SELL HIM SHORT: Cecil Shorts III barely made a mark in the preseason stats, but the third-year receiver from Mount Union should not be ignored. Shorts could emerge as the team's best big-play threat.
Five things we know from the Falcons' preseason:
RIGHT TACKLE IS A CONCERN: Following center Todd McClure's retirement and the cost-cutting decision to release right tackle Tyson Clabo, the offensive line suffered a big loss when Clabo's presumed replacement, Mike Johnson, suffered a season-ending knee injury. Lamar Holmes, who played in only one game as a rookie in 2012, likely will start, but he was pressed by undrafted rookie Ryan Schraeder through the preseason. That may not be a good sign for Holmes or the rebuilt line.
THE CORNERBACKS ARE YOUNG: Asante Samuel, whose playing time was limited by a thigh injury during the preseason, is the only veteran starter at cornerback. First-round pick Desmond Trufant is the other starter and another rookie, Robert Alford, will see significant time on passing downs. Alford struggled when targeted in a loss at Tennessee in the third preseason game, though he had interceptions in each of the last two preseason games. There could be growing pains ahead for the rookies, especially Alford.
WHO IS BACKING UP MATT RYAN? Dominique Davis played almost the full game Thursday night and capped an uninspiring preseason as Ryan's backup. Davis avoided big mistakes until throwing his only interception midway through the fourth quarter but too often overthrew his receivers during the preseason. Davis, who spent 2012 inactive as the third quarterback, threw two TD passes with three interceptions for the preseason. It wouldn't be a surprise if the Falcons pick up a veteran quarterback cut by another team this weekend.
STEVEN JACKSON CAN STILL PLAY: If the Falcons provide some blocking, Jackson should have a big year as a dual threat the team hasn't had in recent years from its starting running back. Jackson looked big and tough and impressed teammates with his leadership. At 30, Jackson didn't look like he's headed for an immediate decline.
WHERE'S THE RUSH? The Falcons signed Osi Umenyiora to replace John Abraham as the top pass-rusher, but he is 31 and had only 6 sacks with the Giants in 2012. The team needs Kroy Biermann, Jonathan Massaquoi and others to add balance to the pass rush. Massaquoi had the highlight of Thursday night's game with his sack, forced fumble, recovery and touchdown return.
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