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Hankerson ready to face old team as No. 2 receiver

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Leonard Hankerson has ascended to the role of No. 2 receiver behind Julio Jones.

Hankerson, who had the second 100-yard receiving game of his career against the Texans, is all set to face his former team the Washington Redskins on Sunday.

The Texans were determined to take wide receiver Julio Jones out of the Falcons’ offense. That was just fine with Hankerson. The Texans bracketed the dynamic Jones with two players and cheated to his side of the field, which created room for Hankerson to do some damage.

Hankerson caught six of his eight targets for 103 yards and a touchdown. He had a career high 106 yards in a 20—9 loss to the Miami Dolphins when he was a rookie on Nov. 11. The Redskins drafted him in the third round of the 2011 draft, but didn’t compete very hard to re-sign him in free agency.

Hankerson has been the second-most targeted wide receiver for the Falcons behind Jones. Former Pro Bowler Roddy White has just six catches for 92 yards this season.

“We are kind of hot as an offense,” Hankerson said. “The defense is out there making plays.”

With all of the extra attention, Jones was held to four catches for 38 yards. He entered the game with 34 catches for 440 yards and four touchdowns.

“I was able to make some plays to keep it going,” Hankerson said.

The Falcons believe that they made a statement by blasting out to a 42-0 lead, before the reserves were outscored 21-6 in the fourth quarter against Houston.

“We have a pretty good team here,” Hankerson said. “We are legitimate. If we keep working, we’re going to be happy with where we are.”

Jones didn’t mind the extra attention.

“They kept leaving the middle of the field vacant and we made them pay,” Jones said. “I was just being a team player today. Yards and touchdowns don’t matter. If we win, that’s the main goal for the team.”

Hankerson busted free on a slant pattern and darted down the middle of the field for a 55-yard gain in the third quarter.

“They were just trying to bracket me early on,” Jones said. “The safety was out of the middle of the field. The middle of the field is vacant and they were cheating to my side. Everybody else was trying to man up.”

Hankerson just tried to make the Texans pay.

“We have a lot of playmakers,” Hankerson said. “We have a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things. Myself, Roddy (White) and Julio. We have players who can play all over the place.”

With Hankerson and running back Devonta Freeman coming, the Falcons are starting to unleash some new offensive weaponry.

Freeman followed up his superlative game against the Cowboys in Week 3 with another big game against the Texans.

Freeman had 68 yards rushing on 14 carries with three touchdowns and five catches for 81 yards against the Texans. In his first start in place of Tevin Coleman (ribs), Freeman erupted for 141 yards on 30 carries with three touchdowns and also had five catches for 52 yards.

“Devonta is playing lights out,” White said. “We’ve got to continue to let him play that way. Feed him the ball, feed him the ball.”

Freeman set an NFL record. He’s the first running back to score three touchdowns in each of his first two starts at least since the merger. He has seven touchdowns in the first four games, the most since LaDainian Tomlinson had eight to start the 2005 season.

REPORT CARD VS. TEXANS

–PASSING OFFENSE: A. With the Texans locked in on wide receiver Julio Jones, Matt Ryan moved the ball around to five other receivers. He completed 19 of 27 passes for 256 yards and one touchdown. He finished with a passer rating of 112.6 Sean Renfree finished out the game, but didn’t throw a pass. The Texans bracketed Jones with two players and cheated to his side of the field, which created room for Leonard Hankerson to do some damage. He caught six of his eight targets for 103 yards and a touchdown. With all of the extra attention, Jones was held to four catches for 38 yards. He entered the game with 34 catches for 440 yards and four touchdowns. The Falcons didn’t have a catch from tight end Levine Toilolo. Roddy White ended his two-game drought with two catches for eight yards

–RUSHING OFFENSE: B-plus. Freeman only played three quarters and didn’t return after scoring his 6-yard touchdown to make it 35-0. He rushed 14 times for 68 yards and caught five passes for 81 yards. Backupup Terron Ward closed out the game and ran hard. He finished with 72 yards rushing on 19 carries. The Falcons rushed for 135 yards on 35 carries for an acceptable 3.9 yards per carry.

–PASS DEFENSE: B-minus. Houston wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins caught nine passes for 157 yards, but that damage was mostly done at garbage time. The secondary had him on lockdown for most of the day. The Falcons made Houston quarterback Ryan Mallett look rather pedestrian as he finished with a 46.8 passer rating. Robensen Therezie played well in his first NFL start. He finished with five tackles and one pass deflection. Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux started the rally with an interception of a tipped pass. Ra’Shede Hageman had his first sack of the season and the Falcons had four quarterback hits from Kroy Biermann, Hageman, Vic Beasley and Paul Soliai.

–RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus. The Falcons held the Texans to 54 yards rushing on 17 attempts. Houston running back Arian Foster returned from groin surgery and Alfred Blue, who rushed for 139 yards in his previous game, was held to 17 yards rushing on six carries. Foster had eight rushes for 10 yards. Justin Durant, who entered the game as the Falcons’ leading tackler with 27, left with an elbow strain. Strong-side linebacker Brooks Reed made his debut and he had two tackles and one for a loss. Middle linebacker Paul Worrilow had four and reserve linebacker Allen Bradford led the team with five tackles. The Falcons had their best tackling game of the season.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: A. Returner Eric Weems had a 29-yard kickoff return, which he nearly broke. He also had an 18-yard punt return. Punter Matt Bosher continued to boom the ball. He averaged 47.7 yards on six punts and hit a long of 55 yards. He also had a punt downed inside the 5.

–COACHING: A-minus. The Falcons put together three fine quarters of football and led 42-0 after the third quarter. The offensive coaches had a good game plan for dealing with Houston defensive end J.J. Watt. The offensive line, as a whole unit, shined against a pretty stout defensive front. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterback Matt Ryan didn’t panic when the Texans bracketed and circled Julio Jones with defenders. Richard Smith’s defensive unit shut down the rushing attack and dared Ryan Mallett to beat them. He couldn’t.


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