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Backup ball: Sharon grabs 2 TDs as Jags clip Falcons

ATLANTA (AP) -- The Atlanta Falcons went through their normal
warmups before the game, then got a surprise when they returned to
the locker room.

The starters wouldn't be playing.

Charles Sharon caught a pair of touchdown passes to lead the
Jacksonville Jaguars past the Falcons 20-17 on Thursday night in
the battle of the backups.

The game meant little beyond settling a few fringe spots on each
roster. Neither team used any starters beyond its kickers, turning
the final preseason game over to the guys on the bubble.

"You see all the starters taking off their tape and know
there's going to be a change," said D.J. Shockley, the Falcons'
third-string quarterback.

Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio was clearly spooked by last
week's preseason game against Tampa Bay. Fullback Greg Jones tore
up a knee and was lost for the season, while leading tackler Mike
Peterson hobbled off with a knee injury that might keep him out of
the Sept. 10 season opener against Dallas.

Del Rio said all week that his starters would get little if any
playing time. "It ended up being not at all," the coach said.

Sharon, an undrafted rookie from Bowling Green, took advantage
of his opportunity by catching touchdown passes on 11 and 8 yards.
He added a 26-yard reception that helped run out the clock.

"I think it was a good idea, so young guys could get in and get
some experience," Sharon said. "And it may have kept some guys
from getting injured. I really liked the decision."

Falcons coach Jim Mora planned to use most of his starters in
the first half, but abruptly changed his mind during warmups. He
insisted it had nothing to do with Jacksonville's lineup.

"It was just a gut decision," Mora said. "We've got many
young players on our roster that we need to see more of and this is
our final preseason game. I felt like we needed to see them get
some work."

So, while high-profile players such as Michael Vick and Byron
Leftwich watched from the safety of the sidelines, the game was
turned over to a bunch of no-names who will either make it as
second- and third-stringers or get their pink slips this weekend.

"We are ready to get to the regular season with our starters,"
Del Rio said. "We have some decisions to make on the back end of
the roster."

The Falcons (2-2) took the opening kickoff and drove right down
the field for their only touchdown. Vick's backup, Matt Schaub,
looked especially sharp with four straight completions for 52
yards, the last a 15-yard touchdown to fullback Fred McCrary.

Schaub also broke off a 7-yard run, giving him a hand in all but
21 yards on the nine-play, 80-yard drive. Those went to rookie
Jerious Norwood, who ran the ball four times.

Mora didn't even let Schaub in on his plans, telling the
quarterback just before the game that he would be starting in place
of Vick.

"It wasn't that strange," Schaub said. "Coach is known for
doing things to keep you off balance. When you're the backup,
you're one play away from playing anyway. It's good he could do
that. I know I'll really be ready to step on the field when the
games start if I'm needed."

A starter finally got on the field after McCrary's touchdown.
Michael Koenen, who has won the kicking job, put through the extra
point.

Jacksonville (3-1) also used its regular kicker. Josh Scobee
booted a 34-yard field goal in the second quarter and a 43-yarder
in the third. In between, backup quarterback David Garrard hooked
up with Sharon on the 11-yard touchdown.

Koenen made it 8-for-8 in the preseason when he connected from
44 yards, pulling the Falcons to 13-10 with just under 13 minutes
remaining.

But the Jaguars, guided by third-string quarterback Quinn Gray,
finished off the Falcons with a nine-play, 69-yard possession.
Sharon slipped into the end zone with 6:52 left.

By that time, most of the fans at the Georgia Dome had headed
for home, disappointed they wouldn't get to see Vick or hardly any
other recognizable names.

Those who left missed local favorite Shockley taking advantage
of perhaps his last playing time this season. He threw a 13-yard TD
to Kevin Youngblood.

Game notes
DT Chad Lavalais appears to be done in Atlanta. A starter
last season, he fell out of favor during the offseason with a
lackadaisical work ethic, played sparingly in the first three
preseason games and didn't even get on the field in the last one.
... Shockley was 9-of-15 for 94 yards and ran the ball four times
for 31 yards. ... Jacksonville rookie Maurice Jones-Drew broke off
a 39-yard run. ... Gray was 8-of-12 for 129 yards.

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