Falcons snap 12-game losing streak with exhibition win over Jaguars

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - AUGUST 29: Olamide Zaccheaus #17 of the Atlanta Falcons is tackled by Tae Hayes #30 of the Jacksonville Jaguars during a preseason game at TIAA Bank Field on August 29, 2019 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

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JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - AUGUST 29: Olamide Zaccheaus #17 of the Atlanta Falcons is tackled by Tae Hayes #30 of the Jacksonville Jaguars during a preseason game at TIAA Bank Field on August 29, 2019 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

With most of the starters getting the night off, third-string quarterback Danny Etling led the Falcons to a 31-12 victory over the Jaguars on Thursday night at TIAA Bank Field before a smallish crowd that appeared to be fewer than 20,000 fans.

The win snapped the Falcons’ 12-game exhibition-game losing streak.

The highlight for the Falcons was the play of first-round pick Kaleb McGary, who started at right tackle. He missed the previous four exhibition games because of a cardiac ablation procedure that was performed July 31.

It was the Falcons’ first victory since they defeated Jacksonville 17-15 at the Georgia Dome on Sept. 1, 2016. Etling, who directed three first-half touchdown drives, completed 15 of 25 passes for 174 yards and one touchdowns. He finished with a passer rating of 94.4.

“Tonight he had 10 or 12 plays that he knew inside and out,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “The receivers and the running backs spent extra time with him because we didn’t do any planning for Jacksonville. So much of the week was focused on us. So in little walk-through moments and in the evenings, they spent time together. The extra work paid off.”

McGary, who was selected with the 31st overall pick of the first round, matched up against veteran defensive end Datone Jones, a former first-round pick of the Green Bay Packers, to start the game.

“We knew we were only going to give him a half,” Quinn said. “He was definitely one champing at the bit to go in the second half, but we said no. We’re going to stick to the plan. For him, he really showed his physicality.”

On the first series, McGary pushed Jones outside on second down, and on third down he held up as Jones twisted inside on a stunt.

On the third down of the second offensive series, McGary did a good job pushing linebacker Leon Jacobs away from the quarterback on a solid block.

McGary, the second of the Falcons’ first-round draft picks, returned to full practice Sunday. He had not played a snap in the exhibition season until this game.

Before the procedure, McGary was receiving about 50 percent of the snaps with the first-team offense at right tackle. He was competing with Ty Sambrailo for the starting spot.

Now, the big question is whether the Falcons saw enough to start McGary over Sambrailo, who has a shoulder injury.

The Falcons open the regular season against the Minnesota Vikings at 1 p.m. Sept. 8 in Minneapolis.

With McGary and his offensive line mates holding up, backup quarterback Danny Etling guided the Falcons to three touchdown drives and a 21-3 lead.

Struggling kicker Giorgio Tavecchio missed a 53-yard field goal with 24 seconds left in the first half.

Jacksonville added a field goal for the 21-6 halftime margin.

In the third quarter, Blair Walsh made a 46-yard field goal to give the Falcons at 24-6 lead.