JACKSONVILLE -- The Falcons won a game. The Falcons won a game. (I felt the need to type that twice.) With a six-game losing streak having already submarined their season, the Falcons were well past the point of expecting and mandating perfection Sunday. They just wanted to finally win one, and they did: 23-17 over Jacksonville. To read my column on this rare turn of events, click here.
Below are my three "short takes" on the game.
1. Flaws, flaws, flaws --- so what? Quarterback Matt Ryan had a pass tipped and intercepted, leading to a tying Jacksonville touchdown in the third quarter, when the Falcons lost a 17-3 lead. The team blew at least 10 more points by failing to cover two Jacksonville fumbles in the red zone on separate possessions, and failing to block the quarterback on an interception return (see below). But the Falcons finally won a game, and a big reason was Ryan and the offense converted three third-down situations and used up 6:44 on the clock down the stretch, even if having to ultimately settle for a field goal. So that's a step forward for the offense and the team, even if the win did come over the 5-9 Jacksonville Jaguars.
2. A touchdown, to start the game -- honest: The Falcons scored a touchdown on their opening possession. That used to not be considered such a big deal, but it was a first for this season. The Falcons consistently had one of the NFL's best success rates on opening drives since drafting Matt Ryan in 2008, but the first 13 games this year netted only zero touchdowns, four field goals, seven punts and two turnovers to start the game. Against Jacksonville, the offense had a nice mix of runs and passing plays off Ryan bootlegs, driving 80 yards on eight plays for a touchdown. The scoring play, a five-yard run by Devonta Freeman, also was the Falcons' first rushing touchdown since Oct. 15 at New Orleans. So relative to everything else in 2015, this was like their "Believe It Or Not" possession.
3. Justin Durant, report to film session: Justin Durant of the Falcons is a linebacker. Blake Bortles of the Jaguars is a quarterback -- a 6-5, 245-pound quarterback, but a quarterback nonetheless. But Durant's failure to throw a block on an interception return cost the Falcons' four points. The Falcons led 14-3 but Jacksonville had a first and goal at the Atlanta one-yard line when Kemal Ishmael intercepted a Bortles pass intended for tight end Marcedes Lewis. Ishmael appeared to have a clear path down the right sideline for a pick-six. But Bortles hustled back and fought off a block by Durant -- actually stiff-arming the linebacker away -- and then tripped up Ishmael at the Jacksonville 16-yard-line. With only two seconds left in the half, the Falcons settled for a Shayne Graham field goal to take a 17-3 lead. One decent block by Durant and Ishmael would have been in the end zone for a 21-3 lead.
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