JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith is waiting to select a backup quarterback.
Watching a replay of the preseason finale at Jacksonville might make his decision an easy one.
T.J. Yates made a strong case to be Matt Ryan’s backup Thursday night, throwing for 243 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-14 win over the Jaguars.
Yates had shown little in the team’s first three exhibitions, completing 39.4 percent of his passes, with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Second-year player Sean Renfree posted better numbers and seemingly had an edge in the competition.
But Yates shined against the Jaguars.
“Things worked well tonight,” said Yates, who spent his first three seasons in Houston. “It’s taken me a little time to get use to this offense coming in so late. I was playing catch-up there in camp and preseason, and I was getting pretty frustrated with the way I was playing in some of the games. But I kept working hard, and coach gave me some more chances to do things.”
Yates’ highlight throw was a 67-yard touchdown strike to Freddie Martino in the second quarter, a deep ball that put Atlanta up 21-7. His other TD came on a swing pass to Antone Smith, who broke several tackles during the 66-yard catch and run.
Yates completed 15 of 20 passes and was sacked twice.
“I thought T.J. had an outstanding game,” Smith said. “That quarterback battle has been an interesting one and that’s going to lead us into a number of very difficult decisions.”
Renfree was 9-of-12 passing for 62 yards.
Ryan didn’t play, spending the game on the sideline with running back Steven Jackson and receivers Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas. Defensive lineman Jonathan Babineaux also got the night off.
Jacksonville held out a number of first-teamers, too.
Quarterback Chad Henne, running back Toby Gerhart, safety Johnathan Cyprien, linebacker Paul Posluszny, left tackle Luke Joeckel, tight end Marcedes Lewis, defensive end Chris Clemons and defensive tackle Roy Miller were among the team’s healthy scratches.
Kicker Josh Scobee, safety Winston Guy, cornerback Alan Ball, safety Craig Loston, right tackle Austin Pasztor, guard Zane Beadles, offensive tackle Josh Wells, tight end Clay Harbor and defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks were held out because of injuries.
With Henne resting, first-round draft pick Blake Bortles got the start for Jacksonville and extended his impressive preseason.
Bortles completed 4 of 6 passes for 86 yards, including a 57-yard TD strike to fellow rookie Marqise Lee on the first play of the second quarter.
“I probably waited too long to get to Marqise, but he did a good job of beating his guy off the line, getting downfield and making a play,” said Bortles, the third overall pick in May’s draft.
Bortles completed 32 of 51 passes for 521 yards in four exhibition games, with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Despite Bortles’ steady improvement, he’s a lock to open the season on the bench behind Henne.
“As a competitor, you want to play,” Bortles said. “You want to go play, obviously, but I think you have to understand your role. I understand mine. Chad’s our starter and I’m the backup. Now my role kind of shifts. I’ve got to go get try and get work in and get better at practice, do stuff for the defense on scout team and improve in those ways.”
Henne ended the preseason 25-of-38 passing for 230 yards, with a touchdown and no interceptions.
More pressing questions for Jacksonville involve the offensive line.
Rookie center Luke Bowanko, a sixth-round pick from Virginia, started in place of Mike Brewster and looked sharp again. Brewster played in the second half and grounded a snap past quarterback Ricky Stanzi – his third bad snap of the preseason.
Brewster could go from being the starter to being on the street when final roster cuts come Saturday.
“When you have a couple bad snaps in the first game and then you throw a low one back there in the last game, I mean, yeah, it’s not a comforting feeling,” Brewster said. “But I know I can play in this league. I have played in this league.
“It’s tough, so we’ll see. Whatever happens, happens. I can’t blame anybody but myself, and whatever the problem is, I’ve got to move beyond that and not let it keep on.”