The Falcons ended their drought against AFC teams with a solid 24-12 victory over the Jaguars Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. 

It was the Falcons’ third win in a row and improved their record to 6-9. The Jaguars, who fired executive vice president Tom Coughlin last week, dropped to 5-10 on the season. 

The win also gave the Falcons a 3-5 record at home, where the stadium appeared to be half full.  

» MARK BRADLEY: Falcons’ late rise continues, and so ...

Falcons fans are surrounded by empty seats for the start of the Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars game Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

“We wanted to close out our home season for our fans and represent certainly in a way that we could,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “We were able to do that today.”  

It was the Falcons’ first victory over an AFC team since they defeated the New York Jets, 25-20, on Oct. 29, 2017. The Falcons had dropped seven straight games to AFC teams, including losses this season to Indianapolis, Tennessee and Houston. The Falcons were swept by the NFC North — Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Baltimore — last season.

The Falcons overcame two interceptions thrown by quarterback Matt Ryan and had a big days receiving from wide receiver Julio Jones and tight end Austin Hooper to power the offense.

Jones had 10 catches for 166 yards — his 55th career 100-yard game. Hooper had seven catches for 82 yards. 

It also was just the fourth game this season the Falcons rushed for more than 100 yards as they finished with 135 yards on 27 carries.  

Ryan completed 32 of 45 passes for 384 yards and a touchdown. He finished with a passer rating of 85.8. 

Running back Devonta Freeman rushed 13 times for 53 yards and Brian Hill added 66 yards rushing on seven carries. 

“It was good to get the run game going today,” Quinn said. 

Freeman also caught nine passes for 74 yards and had a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown.

“I love it,” Freeman said. “I’m just out there competing and having fun. I could run, block or catch. I just want to be out there and have fun.” 

The defense, which held the Jaguars to 57 yards passing over the first three quarters, also held Jacksonville running back Leonard Fournette to under 100 yards rushing. 

Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones talks about reaching career milestone. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)

The spectacular Jones entered the game with 11,881 yards.

In the third quarter, he went over the 12,000-career receiving yards mark. He became the fastest player in NFL history to reach that plateau — doing so in his 125th game.

“Matt Ryan has been with me since Day One,” Jones said. “I appreciate him. I appreciate the offensive line. It’s a big accomplishment.”

 The previous mark was set by Jerry Rice, who surpassed the mark in 142 games.

“It’s pretty amazing for Julio to be the fastest to get to 12,000 yards,” Ryan said. “I think it speaks to what kind of player he’s been from the start of his career.”

Ryan’s interceptions were his 13th and 14th of the season. Ryan tossed a career-high 16 interceptions in 2015.

The Falcons jumped out to a fast start and the Jaguars never recovered.

The Falcons won the toss and elected to receive. The offense opened with a six-play, 82-yard touchdown drive that was capped by a 17-yard run by Freeman. He picked up a good block from Jones and he raced around the left end untouched. 

On the ensuing kickoff, Keith Smith tackled Jacksonville returner Michael Walker and forced a fumble that was recovered by Hill at the Jaguars’ 25-yard line. Four plays later, Ryan tossed an 8-yard touchdown pass to Freeman to put the Falcons up 14-0 with 9:28 left in the first quarter. 

Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman catches a touchdown pass past Jacksonville Jaguars safety Jarrod Wilson in the first quarter and Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

“I thought it was a really good first drive for us,” Ryan said. “Great run by Devonta. Great blocking on that touchdown. To create that turnover on the kickoff and go capitalize and go up 14-0 early in the game. You can’t really start any better than that.” 

The defense held and got the ball back for the offense. The Falcons drove from their own 9-yard line to Jacksonville’s 19. On fourth-and-1, they tried to get cute out of a shotgun formation, but left guard Wes Schweitzer jumped offsides.

The Falcons had to settle for a field goal attempt, but kicker Younghoe Koo missed the 42 yarder wide left.

Jacksonville couldn’t move the ball and punted to the Falcons. On the second play of the second quarter, Ryan was intercepted by Jaguars safety Tre Herndon. 

Jacksonville’s rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew cobbled together an 11-play drive that stalled at the Falcons’ 21-yard line. Kicker Josh Lambo made a 40-yard field goal to make it 14-3. 

The Falcons drove down to the Jaguars’ 10-yard line and called their second timeout. On third-and-7, tight end Austin Hooper ran a 5-yard route and went out of bounds untouched. The Falcons had to settle for a 23-yard field goal from Koo. 

Both teams stumbled about in the third quarter until Jacksonville safety Jarron Wilson intercepted a pass intended for Jones with 6:39 left in the third quarter. 

With Minshew scrambling around, the Jaguars drove to the Falcons’ 4-yard line. Lambo added a 27-yard field to make it 17-6. 

Falcons rookie Qadree Ollison added a 3-yard touchdown run with 13:36 left in the fourth quarter. 

Minshew tossed a 42-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Chris Conley, who put a double-move on cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson to get open. Conley, the former Georgia standout, made a nice catch while not breaking stride. The Jaguars’ two-point conversion pass was incomplete. 

The Falcons will close out the regular season against Tampa Bay (7-8) at 1 p.m. Sunday in Tampa.  A victory would land them in second place in the NFC South.

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