NFL Preseason Preview - Atlanta (1-2) at Jacksonville (2-1)
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Aiming to rebound from an ugly loss, the Jacksonville Jaguars wrap up their 2012 preseason schedule when the Atlanta Falcons pay a visit to EverBank Field.
Coming off a rough 5-11 season, the Jaguars appeared to be making strides under new head coach Mike Mularkey based on the results of the first two weeks of this year's exhibition slate. The momentum gained from narrow victories over the defending world champion New York Giants and 2011 NFC South winner New Orleans came to a crashing halt in last week's matchup at Baltimore, however, with the Ravens pummeling Jacksonville in a 48-17 rout.
A defense that was believed to be the Jaguars' strength was torched through the air, with Baltimore quarterbacks combining for a whopping 433 net passing yards and five touchdowns on the evening. Starting signal-caller Joe Flacco piled up 266 yards and two scores before exiting midway through the third quarter.
Jacksonville triggerman Blaine Gabbert couldn't find the same success against the Ravens' formidable defense, with the 2011 first-round pick managing a modest 117 yards on 11-of-21 passing while working the initial three quarters. The Jaguars mustered only a field goal over that time frame.
There were a couple of bright spots on the Jacksonville side, though. Rookie receiver Justin Blackmon hauled in four passes for 72 yards in the second outing of his promising pro career, while current No. 1 running back Rashad Jennings gained a game-high 57 yards on 13 carries.
Jennings, standing in for Maurice Jones-Drew as the reigning rushing champion continues a prolonged holdout, has compiled an impressive 175 yards on 36 attempts through the first three weeks. Mularkey announced on Monday that Jennings would be the starter when the Jaguars begin the regular season at Minnesota on Sept. 9 even if Jones-Drew does report to the team before then.
Mularkey also said he plans to play his healthy starters up to a quarter in Thursday's finale, though linebacker Daryl Smith (groin), left guard Will Rackley (ankle) and defensive end Austen Lane (ankle) are among those likely to be held out.
Left tackle Eugene Monroe, who's missed Jacksonville's last two tilts with a concussion, was cleared to practice over the weekend and should be in the lineup.
Falcons head coach Mike Smith figures to take a more cautious approach with his team in its final tune-up before a Week 1 meeting at Kansas City. Several regulars, including quarterback Matt Ryan and possibly star wide receiver Julio Jones, are expected to be rested for Thursday's contest.
Neither player seems to need the extra snaps anyway. Ryan has been sensational throughout this preseason, hitting on a sizzling 75 percent (45-of-60) of his throws for 549 yards and three touchdowns with an interception. Jones has done plenty of damage as well, with the second-year wideout amassing 240 yards and a score on 13 catches.
Ryan was on the mark once again in last Friday's 24-6 win at Miami, completing 18-of-26 attempts for 220 yards and connecting with wide receiver Roddy White for a 20-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Jones, meanwhile, led all players with 90 yards on four grabs.
With Atlanta releasing veteran Chris Redman on Tuesday, rookie Dominique Davis becomes the favorite to draw the start at quarterback if Ryan is indeed inactive.
One Falcons starter who definitely won't play is defensive tackle Corey Peters, placed on the reserve/physically unable to perform list with a foot injury on Sunday.
Atlanta snapped a seven-game losing streak in the preseason with Friday's triumph, with a 15-13 setback to the Jaguars at EverBank Field last year included in that slide. Jacksonville also bested the Falcons at home by a 13-9 count in a 2010 warm-up affair.
The Falcons did roll to a 41-14 decision over the Jags at the Georgia Dome during Week 15 of last year's regular season behind three Ryan touchdown passes and a 10-catch, 135-yard, two-score performance from White.
08/28 15:35:32 ET