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Thursday, December 15, 2011
Falcons look to fly past Jaguars


The Jacksonville Jaguars travel to Atlanta tonight to take on the Falcons. While the Falcons are fighting for a playoff berth, the Jaguars are trying to avoid one of the worst seasons in franchise history.

The Falcons trail the New Orleans Saints by two games in the NFC South, but their 8-5 record is currently good for the 5-seed in the NFC. With a win, they would clinch a winning season for the fourth-straight year with Mike Smith as head coach. Before he arrived, the Falcons never posted back-to-back winning seasons.

The Georgia Dome has been a house of horrors for opponents since Smith and Matt Ryan arrived in Atlanta. The Falcons own the best home record in the NFC over the past four seasons.

Rookies have been the key to Atlanta’s fortunes this season. Julio Jones posted his fourth 100-yard receiving game of the season last week. Since the merger, the only rookie with more was Anquan Boldin with five games in 2003.

On the other side of the ball, the Falcons are facing a rookie quarterback for the fourth straight week. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last team to face rookie starting quarterbacks in four straight games was the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals.

The Jaguars beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week behind a season-high 41 points. Jacksonville hadn’t scored more than 20 points in any of its first 12 games. The Jaguars haven’t won back-to-back games since Weeks 13 and 14 last season.

The Jaguars are 4-9 this season. With one more loss, they would reach double digits for the sixth time in the franchise's 17-year history. If they lose out, their 4-12 record would tie the team's debut in 1995 for the most losses in Jacksonville history.

The Jaguars are averaging 141 net passing yards per game this season. According to Elias, the only team over the last six seasons with a lower average was the 2009 Cleveland Browns. Blaine Gabbert’s 21.8 QBR is the lowest in the NFL among qualified quarterbacks this season.

Maurice Jones-Drew leads the NFL with 1,222 rushing yards. No Jaguars player has ever led the league in rushing. After passing Fred Taylor for the most touchdowns in franchise history last week, Jones-Drew needs two rushing touchdowns to pass Taylor’s 62 for the Jacksonville record.

The Falcons have had trouble running the ball recently. They have rushed for fewer than 100 yards and 4.0 yards per carry with no touchdowns each of the last three weeks. Elias states it’s the first time they’ve done that in three straight games of one season since Weeks 2 through 4 in 1999.

Matt Ryan ranks among the top 10 quarterbacks in yards per attempt (6.5) and TD-Int ratio (+9) on throws fewer than 15 yards downfield this season. The Jaguars have defended that area of the field well recently, as they lead the AFC with three interceptions on such passes over the last three weeks.