The Atlanta Falcons have had as up-and-down of a season as you’ll ever see, starting 5-0 before losing seven of eight (including six in a row). But the constant throughout the 2015 season has been wide receiver Julio Jones.
When owner Arthur Blank and general manager leveraged virtually their entire draft class in 2011 to move up and acquire him, they envisioned him becoming a true No. 1 receiver and a regular in Honolulu and on All-Pro teams. So the idea that he could possibly exceed those expectations might seem foreign, but as the Falcons hosted the undefeated Panthers on Sunday desperately clinging to extremely thin playoff hopes, Jones put on display why he just might be the best wide receiver in the NFL.
More importantly, he absolutely dominated one of the best defenses in football and proved to be larger than life in a stunning 20-13 upset victory. And while it’d be disrespectful of the Falcons’ defensive efforts to say that Jones did anything on Sunday single-handedly (by nature, a pass-catcher can’t do much of can’t do much of anything on his own), there was at least one instance on the afternoon where Jones did something only he can do, and that one thing ultimately lifted Atlanta to the win.
Late in the third quarter with the Panthers leading 10-7, Matt Ryan scrambled to his left while avoiding a rush (we’d be remiss not to mention how tough Ryan proved to be on Sunday in what has been a rough season for the eighth-year pro) on a critical third-down play and let it fly. It wasn’t a throw you make if that’s your fifth wide receiver streaking downfield, especially when you consider one of the most athletic, best linebackers in the NFL was in his hip and there was safety help over the top.
However, when you’ve got a player like Jones, you actually can rely on your guy going up and winning the play, and win Julio did.
You either saw it or you didn’t. If you did, you don’t need my description to understand how sensational of an athlete you have to be to go up and make that play over that player. If you didn’t, your only recourse is to go out and find it (you’re in luck) so that you can see for yourself.
That was Jones’ eighth catch of the day and his 126th of the season. It was his also his eight touchdown catch of the year, and in total his receiving line is bordering on absurd, as he’d go on to add a ninth catch for 30 yards to land at 127 grabs for 1,722 yards and eight scores on the year through just 15 games.
In those 15 games, Jones has been held to less than five catches and at least 50 yards on one occasion. That was against the Houston Texans and Jones had four catches for 38 yards before sitting out most of the second half in a 48-21 blowout victory.
More often than not, however, Jones is significantly better than the five-catch, 50-yard baseline, as he has 12 games of at least six catches and 88 or more yards on the year. Sunday was also his seventh game of 100 yards or more receiving and his fourth of at least 160.
That’s supposed to be rarefied air and yet Jones is doing it habitually, and while people are already well aware of how good this kid (he’s still 26), it’s always good to just destroy a great defense in front of a national audience from time-to-time to remind everybody.
The Panthers are perfect no more, in large part because Julio Jones (at times) can seem almost infallible.