What we learned: Falcons 24, Jaguars 12

Jaguars Falcons Football
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II (15) warms up before the first half of an NFL football game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examined what we learned from the Jaguars' 24-12 loss to the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga., Sunday

1.The heart is there … There weren't many positives for the Jaguars Sunday, but perhaps this was one: they trailed 14-0 after a little more than five minutes. Instead of quitting or falling further behind, they fought and came relatively close to a fourth-quarter comeback. This team has many issues. Want-to isn't among them.

2. … but the ability isn't. The Jaguars appeared outmanned defensively by the Falcons' offense. They appeared outmanned offensively by the Falcons' defense. The defensive talent has declined dramatically in the last two offseasons, and there aren't enough skill players offensively. There's a lot of building to do. And soon.

3.The Jaguars know their 2020 opponents. The Jaguars secured a second consecutive last-place finish in the AFC South Sunday. As such, their opponents for next season were set. The Jaguars' eight home games next season: Tennessee, Houston, Indianapolis, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Miami. Their eight road games: Tennessee, Houston, Indianapolis, Minnesota, Green Bay, Cincinnati, Baltimore and the Los Angeles Chargers.

4.The defensive issues are real. The Jaguars were coming off one of their best defensive halves of the season, having shut out the Oakland Raiders in the second half the previous week. Reality came back Sunday in the form of 518 total yards by a talented Atlanta offense.

5.The slow starts are real, too. The Jaguars managed just three points in the first half Sunday, meaning they have scored 22 first-half points in their last seven games. Rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II has an undeniable clutch gene, but you can't always count on miracles.

6.Josh Lambo is good … Your weekly reminder.

7. … and Logan Cooke still is, too. Cooke, the Jaguars' second-year punter, has been far more consistent in his second season than he was as a rookie. Sunday, he kicked five times for a 50.8-yard average and had a 46.8-yard net. Another big-time performance.

8.It's not just run defense. The inability to stop the run has defined the second half of the season. That has masked at times the Jaguars' issues in the secondary. Yes, the Jaguars intercepted Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan twice, but Falcons receivers ran too open too often on Sunday. The Jaguars are a good pass rushing team, but when the pass rush doesn't get home – as was the case Sunday – the secondary is vulnerable.

9.The Mania is on hold. Again. Minshew's difficult-to-figure rookie season continued Sunday. A week after a dramatic, come-from-behind victory over Oakland, Minshew completed 13 of 31 passes for 181 yards and a touchdown and struggled for the third time in his last four starts.

10.Pass-blocking remains an issue. The Jaguars blocked for the run OK Sunday, but while they allowed just three sacks, Minshew was under too much pressure too often. Of the many issues facing this team, finding consistency here is among the most important.

11.The Jaguars need help at wide receiver. DJ Chark Jr. looks like a potential No. 1 receiver. Chris Conley has been solid this season in his first season with the team, and Dede Westbrook appears to be playing through an injury. There are some good players here, but the Jaguars could use another impact receiver.

12.Tight end must be upgraded. OK, we've been learning this all season. But the Jaguars must get NFL-starting level help here in the offseason. It's not quite as high a priority as interior defensive line, but it's absolutely a priority.

13.Leonard Fournette is still playing hard. The third-year running back somewhat quietly has had a productive season. That continued to be the case Sunday. He rushed for 71 yards on 15 carries and caught three more passes for 34 yards. He also hasn't appeared on the injury report this season. Whatever you thought – or think – about Fournette, there's no denying he has maximized his ability this season.

14.The Jaguars are playing at 4:25 p.m. Sunday. The NFL announced on Sunday night that the regular-season finale against the Indianapolis Colts will be played at 4:25 p.m. rather than 1 p.m. The reason for the change is the game has a potential effect on the Oakland Raiders' playoff scenarios. So, there's that.

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