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ATLANTA 21, JACKSONVILLE 14

12/28/2003

ATLANTA (AP) -- The Atlanta Falcons got a lift from the return of
Michael Vick and gave their next coach plenty of hope for the
future.

Just who that will be remains to be seen.

Vick threw two touchdown passes, including a 44-yarder to
Peerless Price on Atlanta's first fleaflicker of the season, and
the Falcons held off the Jacksonville Jaguars 21-14 Sunday.

Atlanta (5-11) improved to 3-1 since Vick returned to the
starting lineup, including victories over division-leader Carolina
and Tampa Bay. After breaking his leg in the preseason, he missed
the first 10 games, then played sparingly in a loss to the Houston
Texans.

Vick finished 12-of-22 for 180 yards and one interception, and
ran seven times for 29 yards.

"Changes are inevitable," he said. "That's just the reality
of the business. Guys know that and accept that. We may look a
little different, but I don't think we'll be too different."

Dan Reeves was fired as coach after the Falcons beat the
Panthers, and Wade Phillips led the team for the final three games.

"There is a great core group here that can win," Phillips
said. "I really believe that. I think they believe that now,
too."

Team owner Arthur Blank has said Phillips would be considered
for the job, and the Falcons received permission Sunday to
interview San Francisco defensive coordinator Jim Mora.

They also are expected to seek permission to talk to New England
defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, and LSU coach Nick Saban and
St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith also are
considered strong candidates.

"I'll tell you this right now," linebacker Keith Brooking.
"I've got a job to do for sure, and I'm not into hiring coaches
and things like that, but they don't have to go far to find our
next head coach. He's right here."

Fred Taylor rushed for 121 yards for the Jaguars (5-11), who
lost for only the second time in their final five games. Rookie
Byron Leftwich was 19-of-32 for 167 yards, including a 15-yard TD
to Troy Edwards in the first quarter.

Vick's poor decision came early in the fourth quarter, with the
Falcons leading 21-14. They faced third-and-3 from Jacksonville's
31, inside the range of kicker Jay Feely.

With a blitz coming, Vick ran backward to try to escape, but
defensive tackle Marcus Stroud didn't let him.

Vick flung the ball toward the sideline just as he was hit by
Stroud, and the pass fluttered in the air before linebacker Akin
Ayodele snared it, Vick's third interception of the year.

The Jaguars drove 50 yards in nine plays, then had fourth-and-5
from the 12. Coach Jack Del Rio first sent out kicker Seth Marler,
then called timeout and turned to Leftwich and the offense.

Leftwich only came out to try to draw the Falcons offside, and
it appeared to work when nose tackle Ellis Johnson and Brooking
jumped across the line. The officials held a brief discussion and
called a false start on Leftwich, forcing Jacksonville back 5 yards
and sending Marler back out for a 30-yard field goal.

But Atlanta's Juran Bolden blocked the kick and the Falcons kept
their lead.

The Jaguars had one more chance at a tie, driving from their 12
to the Atlanta 14 in the final four minutes. With 32 seconds left,
on fourth-and-2, Leftwich's pass to George Wrighster was
incomplete, and Atlanta ran out the clock.

"We gave ourselves the opportunity to come back and get in the
game," Del Rio said. "But in the end, we fell a little short."

Vick's touchdown pass to Price on the fleaflicker gave the
Falcons a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter. T.J. Duckett took a
handoff and then pitched the ball back to Vick, who led Price
beautifully with the 44-yard scoring pass.

Price ran way from safety Deke Cooper to catch Vick's pass at
the goal line.

With 27 seconds left in the first half, Vick threw a 38-yard
pass to Brian Finneran, who outjumped cornerback Fernando Bryant to
catch the ball at the 5.

Two plays later, Justin Griffith caught a 1-yard pass from Vick
to give Atlanta a 21-7 lead at the half.<
^Notes: The Falcons set a team record by allowing 6,108 yards this
season. ... Duckett scored his 11th touchdown of the season, third
best in team history, and finished with 96 yards rushing. ... The
Jaguars finished winless on the road for the first time in their
history. ... Taylor finished the season with 1,572 yards on 355
carries, both team records.

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