- Associated Press - Sunday, December 20, 2015

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - The Jacksonville Jaguars had a number of mistakes, miscues and missed opportunities in their loss to Atlanta.

One stood out above the rest.

Blake Bortles threw an interception at the goal line on the penultimate play of the first half, resulting in potentially a 10-point swing in a 23-17 loss to the Falcons on Sunday.

It was a play the Jaguars (5-9) used a week earlier and one the Falcons (7-7) seemingly saw coming.

“It’s like a needle into a balloon,” veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis said.

After moving the ball 87 yards in less than 2 minutes and setting up a first-and-goal play at the 1, Bortles stared down Lewis in the end zone. When he finally threw it, safety Kemal Ishmael stepped in front and intercepted the pass.

Ishmael scampered down the sideline and looked as if he might score, but Bortles managed to tackle him at the 16-yard line.

Initially, it appeared that the clock ran out on the return. But officials reviewed the play and put 2 seconds back on the clock, allowing Shayne Graham to end the half with a 34-yard field goal that put Atlanta up 17-3.

Although Bortles and the Jaguars bounced back to tie the game with two touchdowns in the third quarter, they faltered in the final period.

Graham added two field goals in the fourth, and the Falcons ended a six-game losing streak.

Bortles completed 23 of 38 passes for 297 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. It was just the second time in the past 10 games that he failed to throw multiple TD passes. He also ran for 44 yards and a score.

Allen Robinson caught three passes for 57 yards and his 13th touchdown of the season. Julius Thomas had six receptions for 79 yards. Bortles also overthrew Thomas on a would-be touchdown in the second quarter.

Trailing 23-17 in the fourth, Jacksonville had a final chance to tie the game again and looked as if it might pull off the comeback when Marqise Lee made a juggling catch down the sideline. But Bortles overthrew Allen Hurns down the middle of the field on third down and then misfired to Robinson on fourth.

“Probably for a touchdown to win it,” Bortles said of the pass to Hurns. “Just missed him.”

The biggest miss, though, was the throw to Lewis late in the final minute of the first half.

“When it comes down to it, those missed opportunities - where it’s fumbles or whatever it is - are haunting us right now,” Hurns said.

Bortles’ first read was to Lewis, who was running a flat route out of a trips formation. But even Lewis acknowledged that the defensive backs on that side of the field said “watch the flat” just before the snap.

“They watch film,” Hurns said. “I think we ran that play last week, so you know they probably caught onto it a little bit.”

Bortles beat himself up over it, too.

“I’ve got to either throw it on time or come off of it and get to the next read,” he said. “It’s tough. You get a chance like that right before half to put up seven points and get back in the game and obviously it hurts.”

The Jaguars lost for the third time in four games and failed to gain ground in the muddled AFC South.

Despite the slide, they’re still alive in the division race. They need to win out (against New Orleans and Houston) and have Tennessee beat Houston and Indianapolis to win the AFC South.

More important for Jacksonville is to start eliminating self-inflicted problems.

“Every team in this league is good,” Thomas said. “If you make it hard on yourself, they’re going to get really good. And that’s what happened at the end of the third quarter and into the fourth. We didn’t do the things that we needed to do to execute and they made big plays and got the best of us.”

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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