Slow start dooms Jaguars against Falcons

Falcons score twice in first 6 minutes, win 24-12

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Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) runs past Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Josh Allen (41during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

On Coughlin time or regular time, the Jaguars just can’t get things going.

Not this year at least.

Jacksonville came out flat and never caught up on Sunday in a 24-12 loss to Atlanta.

The Jaguars (5-10) limp into their regular season finale next Sunday against the Colts — the game time was changed by the NFL from 1 to 4:25 p.m. — having lost six of their final seven games. A fourth-quarter comeback to stun the Raiders 20-16 in Week 15 is their only win since Jacksonville’s bye week.

It was a rough end to a challenging week for the Jaguars, who were blistered publicly by the NFL Player’s Association for excessive fines that an arbitrator said were against the league’s collective bargaining agreement. That led to the stunning dismissal of executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin on Wednesday, and, an infusion of positive in the wake of that.

The clocks were set back to the regular time — Coughlin had all the clocks at TIAA Bank Field set five minutes ahead — and the focus was on finishing strong, with the possibility of some continuity going forward.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter and the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported on Sunday that sources have said Jaguars owner Shad Khan wants both coach Doug Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell to return in 2020, something unthinkable before the win at Oakland last week.

The bad news — there was no post-Coughlin firing bump on the field.

Jacksonville came out flat and was down two scores in the blink of an eye. While its defense played very well following the slow start — Tre Herndon and Jarrod Wilson both had interceptions and Donald Payne had a team-best 16 tackles and two for loss — the hole was too deep.

The offense just can’t move the ball well enough.

Gardner Minshew had an off afternoon, going 13 of 31 for 181 yards and a late touchdown. But the Jaguars managed just two Josh Lambo field goals until Minshew hit Chris Conley on a 42-yard strike with 12 minutes to play. Jacksonville failed on the two-point conversion try.

It’s been a similar script throughout the latter half of the season, with the offense treading water until it’s too later.

But this one all went sour with the start.

The first half continued to be an issue, with too big of a deficit and not enough offense until late setting the table for another disappointing result.

Minshew attempted to put together another rally, but a Jaguars drive stalled on downs at the Falcons 7 with 4:30 left. Atlanta bled the clock to ice it. Leonard Fournette continued to run well, finishing with 71 yards on 15 carries. It was Fournette’s eighth straight game with less than 100 yards on the ground, although he had 34 yards receiving and continues to be a multi-purpose threat for the Jaguars.

Devonta Freeman capped an 82-yard drive with a 17-yard touchdown run on the sixth play of the game. Kick returner Michael Walker lost a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and Freeman caught at 8-yard scoring pass four plays later.

Ryan was 32 of 45 for 384 yards and a touchdown to Freeman. Receiver Julio Jones had 10 catches for 166 yards.

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