Fumble-prone Jaguars edge Ryan, Falcons

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP)—The Jacksonville Jaguars found a win in a pile of fumbles.

The Atlanta Falcons may have found a starter in a pile of quarterbacks.

Jacksonville rested Fred Taylor and lost three fumbles but still had enough offense to beat the Falcons 20-17 on Saturday night in the preseason opener for both teams.

The Falcons scored only three points off lost fumbles by three Jacksonville rookies—running backs Lavarus Giles and Chauncey Washington and return specialist Brian Witherspoon.

New Falcons coach Mike Smith, who came to Atlanta after five years as the Jaguars’ defensive coordinator, played each of his four quarterbacks, including first-round pick Matt Ryan.

Ryan completed 9 of 15 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown.

“I thought Matt passed the test in terms of poise and execution,” Smith said. “I thought for the first time in an NFL game he was very impressive.”

Smith said he sent Ryan in the game after only two series because he wanted to make sure the rookie faced the Jacksonville first-team defense.

“That was the plan,” Smith said. “We wanted to get him in early to play against the best and I thought he handled it extremely well.”

Smith didn’t send kicker Jason Elam on the field for a potential tying 39-yard field goal attempt on a fourth-and-11 play from the Jacksonville 22. Instead, quarterback D.J. Shockley scrambled 17 yards to the 5 with 26 seconds left.

On third down from the 5, Pierson Prioleau made a game-saving interception in the end zone of Shockley’s pass intended for Eric Weems.

Smith said he never considered the field goal, much to the relief of Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio.

“I wanted to win that game,” Smith said. “It’s funny, Jack said, ‘Hey, I love you, man, for not trying that field goal.’ There’s no need in the preseason to plan for overtime.”

Said Del Rio: “I thought Mike playing for the win was smart for both teams.”

Starting quarterback Chris Redman’s second drive ended when his deep pass intended for Michael Jenkins was intercepted by Reggie Nelson at the Jacksonville 6.

Ryan, this year’s No. 3 overall draft pick, entered the game on the next possession with 6:41 left in the first period and led an 11-play, 74-yard touchdown drive on his second series.

“I thought it was a good start,” Ryan said. “I still have a long way to go and I’m glad that one is under my belt.”

Ryan threw a 25-yard scoring pass to Roddy White, who had to twist to catch the ball but still said, “Matt threw me a good ball.”

Smith left the first-string offensive line in the game to protect Ryan, who still was sacked twice. The Jaguars had five sacks, including 2 1/2 by Mkristo Bruce.

“We sacked the quarterback a few times, which was good to see,” Del Rio said.

Redman was 3-for-6 passing for 13 yards with the interception.

“I threw some good balls but they made some good defensive plays,” Redman said. “It was a good start and it felt good to be out there playing against someone else.”

David Garrard gave Jacksonville the early lead with a 1-yard scoring run in the first quarter. Backup Cleo Lemon led a touchdown drive to open the second half for Jacksonville.

Joey Harrington and Shockley, competing for the No. 3 job, split the snaps in the second half.

Jason Snelling ran 47 yards on a screen pass from Harrington to set up Harrington’s 1-yard scoring run in the third quarter. Harrington, who also led a short drive that ended with Jason Elam’s 36-yard field goal, was 5-for-7 passing for 64 yards.

Taylor, the Jaguars’ veteran running back, went through pregame warmups but was held out by Del Rio.

“Coach decided to take care of me,” Taylor said. ” … I wasn’t going to play much at all anyway.”

Maurice Jones-Drew started for Taylor and had five carries for 23 yards. Greg Jones had five carries for 39 yards.

Elam was wide right on a 49-yard field goal attempt late in the first half and short on a 54-yard attempt with 4:22 left to play. ^Notes: Falcons DE John Abraham left in the first quarter with a right ankle injury. Abraham said the injury is not serious. … Jacksonville WR Matt Jones had three catches for 37 yards. He faces arraignment Monday on felony drug charges in Arkansas. He was charged with possession of cocaine on July 10. … Jacksonville placed DE James Wyche on the waived/injured list with a torn Achilles’ tendon and signed DE Bo Schobel, who played in the second half.

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