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Sam: One mistake too much to overcome for Jaguars

Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, left, scrambles as he is rushed by Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Justin Durant (52). (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, left, scrambles as he is rushed by Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Justin Durant (52). (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton) (Associated Press)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla – Having not thrown an interception in two games and nearly two quarters, Blake Bortles throw at the end of the first half against the Falcons dashed the Jaguars hopes to get back in the game.  It turned out to be the one mistake the Jaguars made in a one possession game that cost them a chance at victory in a 23-17 loss to Atlanta.

"I threw it late," Bortles explained after the game. Probably need to throw it to Marcedes on time or throw it away."

Bortles chased down Kemal Ishmael at the 14-yard line with a good effort but 2 seconds were left on the clock allowing Atlanta to kick a field goal and take a 17-3 lead at halftime.

It appeared the Jaguars were about to make a game of it at the end of the second quarter after a field position contest and a solid first half by Matt Ryan and the Falcons running game had made it 14-3.

Taking the opening drive straight down the field, Atlanta took a 7-0 lead when Devonta Freeman scored from 5 yards out ended an 8-play, 80-yard drive to start the game.  While the Falcons had lost six straight and seven of eight coming into Jacksonville, their strengths at quarterback, wide receiver and running back are the things that have given the Jaguars defense problems all year long.  Matt Ryan and Julio Jones did just what the Jaguars feared most:  moved the ball on offense with a blend of crossing routes, the stretch running play and time to throw.  That combination has proven to be where the Jaguars defense is vulnerable.

Meanwhile, the Jaguars offense looked sluggish and out of sync for nearly the entire first half.  Bortles wasn’t sharp, missing a wide open Julius Thomas streaking for the end zone for a touchdown, forcing them into a field goal and a 7-3 Falcons lead.

But after several punt exchanges that left the Falcons with good field position, then Ryan hit Jones from 11-yards out on a nicely designed misdirection play to take a 14-3 lead.  Like most starting quarterbacks in the league, Ryan can take advantage of a defense given time.  He did that, avoiding Jaguars pressure and put two touchdowns up in the first half.

With under two minutes to play in the first half, Bortles started buying time in the backfield and finding open receivers.  He almost stepped over the line of scrimmage, again, but was ruled behind it on a 25-yard completion in the middle of the field to Allen Hurns.  A couple of passes, including a nice circle route to Denard Robinson put the ball at the one with 13 seconds in the half.  That’s when Bortles got locked in on the out pass and Kemal Ishmael grabbed it in stride and ran to the Jaguars 16.  It was only a good effort by Bortles to keep Ishmael out of the end zone.  With two seconds on the clock, Atlanta kicked a field goal to take a 17-3 halftime lead.

Neither the play call nor the execution was any good there.  Bortles didn’t have enough options, got locked in on the receiver and did the one thing you can’t do there, throw an interception.  Give him some options and if it’s not there, throw it in the stands and give yourself another chance.

Getting the ball to start the second half, the offense moved it right down the field again, this time scoring from the one on a roll out by Bortles who just stepped into the end zone to make it 17-10.  Getting him out of the pocket that close to the end zone gives him plenty of options to throw or run or throw it away. Nine plays, 80-yards, 4:20 off the clock and down by seven.

All season the Falcons have been plagued by turnovers and a good defensive play by Jared Odrick let Paul Posluszny grab a tipped ball for an interception on the next Atlanta possession.

Some tough running by Blake, a good “ball spot” challenge by Gus Bradley for a first down, a nice throw to DRob in the flat and a one-on-one ball to Allen Robinson in the end zone from 10-yards out made it 17-all. It was the 13th TD catch of the year by Robinson, leading the league.  Also the 14th straight game Bortles has thrown a TD pass, tying the franchise record.

With momentum, the Jaguars defense was able to force a Falcons punt although they gave up several 3rd down conversions and were called for pass interference on another.  But the offense couldn’t do anything with it, suffering through an incompletion and two fumbles before they kicked it back to the Falcons.

Helped by a bogus 31-yard pass interference call against Telvin Smith, Atlanta kicked a 33-yard field goal to take a 20-17 lead midway through the 4th quarter. 

"I don't want our players thinking, 'What if'", Bradley said afterwards. "I want them to think, "What now?"

If the Jaguars look back on 2015 and honestly rate their defense, it’ll be their lack of 3rd down efficiency that will stick out as a sore spot.  Against the Falcons, the Jaguars couldn’t get off the field in the 4th quarter, giving up a 3rd and long several times, allowing Atlanta to keep the ball, run the clock and kick two field goals for a 23-17 lead.

It wasn’t a banner day for Nick Marshall who’s been installed as the Jaguars nickel corner.  In the second half Matt Ryan was looking for him and found him often, trailing receivers, allowing first downs and more.  And as the kick returner his decision-making was suspect, bringing a kick out of the end zone from nine yards deep with less than two minutes to play.  If Gus Bradley calls it “situational football” this play was “not smart.”

In another “one possession” game, the Jaguars made one critical mistake that cost them points and it turned out to be the difference in the contest.  It leaves the Jaguars at 5-9 and guarantees them a losing season for the fifth consecutive year and seven of their last eight.  They were 8-8 in 2010 with their last winning year in 2007 at 11-5.

Road games against New Orleans and Houston will finish the year.