Conversations about Atlanta’s Dan Quinn and Jacksonville’s Gus Bradley were a lot different a couple of months ago.
The Falcons started the season 5-0, and the first-year coach looked like he would get the team back to the playoffs after a two-year absence. The Jaguars lost five of their first six games, couldn’t get out of their own way and were surrounded by speculation about Bradley’s future.
The talk has changed dramatically since. Now, the good friends and former Seattle assistants need a win for different reasons when Jacksonville hosts Atlanta on Sunday.
The Falcons (6-7) have dropped six in a row, seven of eight and are on the verge of being eliminated from wild-card contention in the NFC.
“We got off to a hot start, that’s for sure, and we have struggled really the last two months and haven’t played the way that we’re capable of,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “It’s hard to pinpoint just one thing. On the offensive side of the ball … we’ve got to find a way of scoring more touchdowns and protecting the ball a little bit better.”
The Jaguars (5-8), meanwhile, have found some rhythm offensively, set several franchise records and have an outside shot at winning the muddled AFC South. Jacksonville is one game behind division co-leaders Indianapolis and Houston, and can catch one of them with a victory Sunday.
“I just know that we’re not first, so we need to take care of our business and win out and get some help,” Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis said. “Games in November and December haven’t been meaningful around here since like ’07, so it feels good to be in that position.”
Quinn and Bradley were in the same spot, Seattle, in 2009 and 2010.
Bradley was the Seahawks defensive coordinator, and Quinn was the defensive line coach. Together, they helped build Seattle into one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses.
Quinn left after two seasons and returned to college to become Florida’s defensive coordinator. But when the Jaguars hired Bradley in 2013, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll asked Quinn to return. Quinn did and helped guide the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl victory.
Quinn and Bradley talk and text often, congratulating each other on wins and talking philosophies and “better ways to do things,” Quinn said.
“It’s just a great connection for me and one that I have great regard and great respect for,” he added. “I really do.”
Their former boss, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, will be watching their first matchup closely from afar.
“That’s great. I think that’s awesome,” Carroll said. “We watch them really intently.”
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Here are some other things to know about Atlanta and Jacksonville, who are playing for the sixth time:
JAMMING JONES: Jaguars cornerback Davon House has done a decent job covering some of the league’s top receivers this season, including Miami’s Jarvis Landry, New England’s Julian Edelman, Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans, Indianapolis’ T.Y. Hilton, and Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins. The 6-foot-3 Julio Jones, who leads the NFL with 109 receptions, could provide a tougher challenge. “Davon House is starting to understand who he is, what his strengths are and what areas he needs to work on,” Bradley said. “I’ve seen that the last probably two or three weeks it’s really been evident. When you’ve got that, then you’ve got a great chance for taking the bar higher.”
STREAK BUSTERS: Jacksonville has broken several losing streaks this season, which could bode well for the Falcons. Tampa Bay and Tennessee snapped 11-game home skids against the Jags, and San Diego ended a six-game losing streak in Jacksonville last month.
IN AND OUT: Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny will return after missing one game with a broken right hand. He will play with it heavily wrapped. The Jags will be without leading rusher T.J. Yeldon, who sprained a ligament in his left knee last week. Former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson is expected to make his first start of the season.
HOME/ROAD FINALE: This marks Atlanta’s final road trip of the season and the team’s third straight game away from home. The Jaguars, meanwhile, play their final two games on the road, so this is their home finale.
AVOIDING HISTORY: The Falcons need to win two of their final three games to avoid becoming the first team in NFL history to finish with a losing record after starting 5-0.
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.