JACKSONVILLE – They stayed out of the way, and made room for competition.
That’s typical of a preseason finale, and that’s what the Jaguars’ front-line players did for the most part on Thursday night.
Quarterback Chad Henne and a slew of other starters sat out the fourth and final game of the 2014 preseason, with most front-line players who did play giving way to third-teamers and players fighting for roster spots by halftime of a 24-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons at EverBank Field.
“We evaluate everything,” Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said at halftime of a game played in front of an announced 59,031 in 88-degree temperatures. “We look at reps on offense, defense and special teams, their mentality, how they come into the game, all of those things …”
Henne, the Jaguars’ starting quarterback in the first three preseason games, sat out the game along with left tackle Luke Joeckel, tight end Marcedes Lewis, running back Toby Gerhart, fullback Will Ta-ufo’ou, defensive end Chris Clemons, defensive tackle Roy Miller, middle linebacker Paul Posluszny and safety Johnathan Cyprien. Ten other Jaguars players sat out with injuries.
Henne, expected to be the Jaguars’ starting quarterback in the regular season, finished the preseason completing 25 of 38 passes for 230 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions.
Henne’s absence meant rookie quarterback Blake Bortles – the No. 3 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft – made his first NFL start of any kind. He completed four of six passes for 86 yards and a touchdown.
Bortles’ 57-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Marqise Lee tied the game 7-7 with 14:52 remaining in the second quarter, capping Bortles’ third and final drive of the game.
“It was a good play,” Bortles said. “I had him on a seam and threw a little later than I wanted to, but he did a good job staying alive and running down the field to make a play.”
Bortles finished the preseason completing 32 of 51 passes for 521 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.
“It was cool to get the opportunity to start a game and get to go against their ones for a couple series,” Bortles said. “It was cool. It was just another opportunity to get better and work on some things.”
Bortles said the preseason as a whole went well for the Jaguars’ offense.
“We’ve accomplished a lot,” he said. “We have a lot of work left to do, but I think everybody is happy with the preseason that we’ve had and is looking forward to getting ready for Week 1.”
The Falcons took a 7-0 lead when running back Devonta Freeman scored on a one-yard touchdown run with 1:59 remaining in the second quarter. After Bortles’ touchdown to Lee, the Falcons retook the lead with a 66-yard screen pass from T.J. Yates to running back Antone Smith. That made it 14-7, and the Falcons pushed the lead to 21-7 when wide receiver Freddie Martino beat cornerback Jeremy Harris for a 67-yard touchdown later in the quarter.
“I think the defense came out and got some stops, but overall, I think we have to go in there and talk about what ‘get better’ looks like,” Bradley said at halftime. “Right now, we’re not playing with the energy that we’re accustomed to and that’s what we need to address.”
Yates completed 15 of 20 passes for 243 yards and two first-half touchdowns. Matt Bryant’s 27-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter pushed the lead to 24-7 long after the starters from both teams had left the game.
Jaguars running back Jordan Todman’s 3-yard run in in the fourth quarter made it 24-14, Falcons.
It’s difficult to find a turning point in a game in which both teams rested a slew of starters. But if you were worrying about the score, the turning point came in the second quarter, shortly after Bortles’ long touchdown pass to Lee. Smith’s 66-yard touchdown came two series later and Martino’s 67-yard touchdown came on the possession after that to give the Falcons a 14-point lead.
LOOKING ON . . .
1.Rookie Luke Bowanko started at center for the Jaguars Thursday, indicating he may be in consideration for the starting position. The Jaguars have been looking for the starter at center throughout the preseason, starting Mike Brewster in the first two games and Jacques McClendon in the third game against the Lions last week. …
2.The Jaguars’ starting offensive line on Thursday: left tackle Cameron Bradfield, left guard Jacques McClendon, Bowanko, right guard Brandon Linder and right tackle Sam Young. Bradfield likely will start at right tackle in the regular-season opener, but moved over with Joeckel out of the lineup. …
3.Denard Robinson started at running back with Gerhart not starting. Robinson has shared time at backup at reserve running back with Jordan Todman and Storm Johnson this preseason. Robinson rushed for 12 yards on seven carries Thursday and Todman – the backup last season – rushed for 37 yards and a three-yard touchdown on 11 carries. …
4.Brandon Barden started at tight end in place of Lewis, and Eric Kettani started at fullback for Ta’ufo’ou. ……
5.Lee returned and played after spending two days away from the team dealing with a personal issue this week. The rookie wide receiver started the game opposite Cecil Shorts III. …
6.Andre Branch started at Leo pass-rusher, with Abry Jones and Ziggy Hood at defensive tackle in place of Miller and injured Sen’Derrick Marks. …
7.J.T. Thomas started the game at middle linebacker, an indication he may be the backup at the position behind Posluszny, who sat out the game. Chris Prosinski and Josh Evans started at safety with Cyprien out and Winston Guy injured, while Demetrius McCray started at corner for injured Alan Ball. …
8.Wide receivers Ace Sanders and Tandon Doss both played for the first time in the preseason, with Doss returning two punts for three yards and not catching a pass. Doss, who missed the first three preseason games with an ankle injury, left Friday night’s game with an ankle injury. Sanders, who missed the first three preseason games dealing with personal issues, returned three punts and had a 31-yard return. He will miss the first four games of the regular season under league-mandated suspension. …
Jaguars rookie cornerback Rashaad Reynolds sustained a first-quarter hand injury, and did not return, while Doss sustained a second-quarter ankle injury.
Marks (shoulder), kicker Josh Scobee (quad) , Zane Beadles (calf contusion), Austin Pasztor (hand), offensive tackle Josh Wells (shoulder), safety Craig Loston (hamstring), tight end Clay Harbor (calf), Ball (ribs) and Guy (quadriceps) did not dress for Thursday’s game. All missed at least one practice day this week.
Wide receiver Allen Robinson, who missed all four preseason games with a hamstring injury, also did not play Thursday, though he dressed for the game and went through pre-game warmups.
Punter Bryan Anger rested a sore groin Thursday, and though he performed holding duties he did not punt.