ATLANTA -- The Employment Bowl goes to the Atlanta Falcons and coach Dan Quinn.
The 24-12 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday boosted Quinn’s chances of keeping his job. The Falcons (6-9) have won three in a row and are now 5-2 since their 1-7 start.
The resurgence began when Quinn ceded defensive playcalling duties to linebacker coach Jeff Ulbrich. The Falcons have given up 22 or fewer points in their five victories and they held the Jaguars to just three points in the first half on Sunday before giving up a garbage touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The Falcons can’t make the playoffs, but the past two months -- plus another good performance in the season finale at Tampa Bay -- may convince GM Thomas Dimitroff and owner Arthur Blank to consider bringing Quinn back for his seventh season.
The loss makes Jaguars coach Doug Marrone’s future murkier, though league sources told ESPN that team owner Shad Khan has confided internally that he'd prefer to see the return of Marrone and GM Dave Caldwell for the 2020 season.
Khan fired executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin earlier this week.
But it’s Marrone’s 21st loss in 31 games since leading the Jaguars to a 10-6 record, an AFC South title and an appearance in the AFC Championship Game in 2017. It also guarantees that the Jaguars (5-10) will finish the season with double-digit losses for the eighth time in the past nine seasons.
QB breakdowns: The Jaguars have to find a way to get QB Gardner Minshew -- and really, the rest of the offense -- going in the first half of games. Minshew completed 3 of 10 passes for 21 yards in the first half against the Falcons and the Jaguars managed just three points. The week before against Oakland, Minshew also went 3-for-10 but had 69 yards, though 55 of those came on one play. The reasons for the struggles are plenty: penalties, drops, not having DJ Chark (against the Raiders), and the lack of production in the run game. So, he hasn’t really gotten a lot of help.
But while Minshew was struggling, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was dealing. He threw for 384 yards and extended his streak of consecutive years of at least 4,000 yards passing to nine. It’s the longest current streak in the NFL and the second-longest streak in NFL history behind Drew Brees’ 12. The last time Ryan failed to throw for 4,000 yards? The 2010 season, which was the year he made his first Pro Bowl.
Pivotal play: Jaguars rookie receiver Michael Walker made the game’s biggest mistake when he fumbled the kickoff after the Falcons’ first touchdown. Keith Smith knocked it loose and Brian Hill recovered the ball at the Jaguars’ 25-yard line. Four plays later the Falcons took a 14-0 lead on Devonta Freeman’s TD catch. The Jaguars’ offense has barely been productive in the first half of games the last six weeks (19 points entering Sunday), and falling behind by double digits with 9:28 remaining in the first quarter pretty much sealed the Jaguars’ fate. It’s the second time Walker has fumbled a kickoff this season. He did it against Tennessee following Derrick Henry’s 74-yard touchdown run – and 19 seconds later Henry scored again. Dagger turnovers.
Promising Falcons trend: The Falcons’ season went wrong for a variety of reasons, but a drop-off from Julio Jones isn’t one of them. The ninth-year receiver had 10 catches for 166 yards on Sunday, giving him his 55th career game with at least 100 yards receiving. That’s fourth-most all time and the most by any player in the NFL since Jones was drafted in 2011, per ESPN Stats & Information. It also made Jones the 27th player in NFL history with 12,000 career receiving yards -- and the fastest player to reach that total, too (125 games). Only two other active players have 12,000 or more receiving yards: Larry Fitzgerald and Jason Witten.