In the practices leading up to their interconference matchup in Jacksonville, the Falcons spent a lot of time focused on one of their biggest issues: red zone offense.
Atlanta struggled mightily inside the opponent's 20 throughout its recent six-game losing streak, and as a result, Matt Ryan and Co. have experienced a considerable drop in overall production. Given that five of their seven defeats were tightly-contested, the Falcons knew they needed to start capitalizing on more of their prime opportunities.
And that's exactly what they did against the Jaguars. The Falcons on Sunday scored two touchdowns inside the red zone—one a Devonta Freeman run, the other a Julio Jones catch. Up by just three points late in the fourth quarter, this improvement made an enormous difference and, in the end, helped bring Atlanta back to .500 and keep its playoff hopes alive.
"I know we have great belief in how we want to play. When our football gets right and the focus stays about us in terms of the way we want to take care of it offensively," Dan Quinn said Monday. "So it's good to see some of those things pay off."
Atlanta's offense got back on track immediately by putting together an eight-play, 80 yard touchdown drive after the opening kickoff. Ryan completed all seven passes on that possession; Devonta Freeman finished it off by scoring on a five-yard run—his 10th rushing TD of 2015, tops in the league.
"Obviously we wanted to start fast," Ryan said. "Last week was disappointing and frustrating, and everybody wanted to get back onto the field today and get going. So, to be able to start like that, it was really encouraging.
"I thought that was the momentum we needed to kind of get things going. And we need more of that as we continue to move forward."
This progress helped in the turnover department, as well. Atlanta has been giving the ball away at a concerning rate inside the red zone, but thanks to accurate passing, creative playcalling and a balanced attack, the Falcons remaned crisp in that area versus Jacksonville. Other than a tipped Ryan throw that ended up in the arms of Paul Posluszny, the Falcons avoided any major errors, finishing with an even turnover margin thanks to Kemal Ishmael's highlight-worthy interception in the second quarter.
Although a playoff berth might currently be a longshot, similar performances from the offense could have an appreciable long-term effect. Quinn's defense has taken a big step forward in 2015 and is set up to get even better next year, and if Kyle Shanahan's unit can experience similar growth down the stretch, it'll inspire a lot of confidence heading into the 2016 campaign.