Entering this season, the Atlanta Falcons have a reputation to shake — and that’s of a team that blew a Super Bowl victory, turning a 25-point third-quarter lead into an bitter overtime loss.
But their star receiver, Julio Jones? He has a reputation to build on.
Jones is one Falcon who wasn’t diminished by his Super Bowl LI performance. Targeted only four times, he caught all four balls for a team-high 87 yards, including an improbable sideline reception that could have … should have … clinched the Falcons’ first NFL championship. So while the Falcons have plenty of questions to answer this season, the only one to ask about Julio Jones is — Can this guy be covered?
Well, can he?
“He is a handful,” his coach, Dan Quinn, said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “Here’s what makes him unique: He has the speed to play outside, but he’s got the change-of-direction and the ability to run full speed and then make full-speed cuts. And that’s what’s so hard … when you can run option routes as a big guy and break guys off.
“So you better have some ways to play over the top of him because he can go. But he also has the ability to stop, and that’s where the underneath stuff for him (happens). He can make the catch and then turn it into a long run.
“I love the physical style that he plays with. He’s over 220 pounds. He’s a relentless competitor and always looking for a way to find an edge and do it better. So he’s a handful. As far as other teams doing it … I’m glad he’s on our squad, I can tell you that.”
One of the key plays in Super Bowl LI was one Jones didn’t make. It was that third-and-1 early in the fourth quarter where, instead of giving the ball to running back Devonta Freeman, quarterback Matt Ryan tried throwing deep — only to be sacked and fumble the ball away to New England.
It was the turning point of the game, and it was a dreadful mistake. Worse, though, Jones reportedly was wide open down the field if Ryan had been able to get off the pass … which, of course, he was not. So the play was there; Ryan simply didn’t have the time to execute it.
“It happens more than you think,” said Quinn, who would not confirm if Jones was open. “You try to put the guys in the best spot. When you’re shot is there to made you’ve got to answer, and you’ve got to deliver … especially against a championship team as New England is.
“What I can tell you is, man, do I have a lot of belief in our team. And I feel like it’s all out there for us to see how good we can get.”