So, Julio Jones, if any other NFL team is willing to cover you so often one-on-one, as the Carolina Panthers did Sunday, how would you react?
“I’d love it,” Jones said, and why not? He finished with 300 receiving yards on 12 catches. The finishing stroke on his game was a 75-yard touchdown catch-and-run in the fourth quarter as the Falcons beat the Panthers 48-33.
Jones was peppered with questions Sunday as to why the Panthers would approach this game as they did. Why expect that a single cornerback – particularly a rookie such as James Bradberry or Daryl Worley – could contain so gifted a 6-3, 220-pound wide receiver?
Some context: With Sunday’s performance, Jones is now the only player in NFL history to reach at least 250 receiving yards in two separate games.
So did it shock Jones that the Panthers would try this strategy, then take so long to start giving the primary defender some help?
“It did, it did. Especially against a divisional opponent,” Jones said. “To put a one-on-one on me, we took advantage of it today and made some explosive plays.
“They put the young corner on me man-to-man. If they would have two-manned me or cheated a safety over to me, Matt (Ryan) would have made great reads and hit the other guys who were open. They singled me out today, one-on-one, and Matt made some great decisions.”
Falcons quarterback Ryan completed 28 of 37 passes for 503 yards. This was the first time in NFL history that a quarterback threw for at least 500 yards and a receiver caught gained 300 yards in the same game.
In other words, Ryan wasn’t just locked on Jones. He completed passes to nine other receivers Sunday. At 3-1, the Falcons look like a serious threat for the NFC South championship. The Panthers (1-3) have won the last three titles.
“Julio only had 12 catches. That’s a lot, but he’s had bigger receiving days in terms of catches,” Ryan said. “His explosiveness in the catches that he made was so critical.”
Jones finished with a remarkable 25 yards per catch. Ryan said there are so many facets to Jones’ game: The length, the explosiveness after the catch and – he put this at the top of the list – Jones’s ability to make catches in traffic.
Ryan said his personal favorite of Jones’ catches Sunday was an underneath route that a lot of fans might have missed as telling.
“He just snatched it, didn’t even bring it into his chest. His hands are so strong,” Ryan said. “He makes a lot of great plays, don’t get me wrong, but I threw that and said, ‘That was one hell of a catch!’”
Jones seemed less impressed with his performance than those around him. He seemed almost embarrassed by all the attention. He said, in a sense, he could have been just as happy had the Panthers blanketed him with defenders, so long as the end result was the same.
“People say, ‘Oh, you’ve got to get the ball, get the ball.’ I don’t have to get the ball to be successful and win,” Jones said.
“When people are putting two or three guys on me, I’m doing my job. Pulling (defenders) away from other guys so that they get single coverage.”