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Jones’ record pace leading Falcons’ ascending offense

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones is on pace to catch an astounding 176 passes during the 2015 regular season.

The reigning NFC offensive player of the week is not likely to keep up the pace of averaging 11 receptions per game, but he has continued where he left off after catching 104 passes last season while setting a team record and pacing the NFC with 1,053 receiving yards.

Jones was targeted 15 times and pulled in 13 passes, tying the team record set by former tight end Tony Gonzalez on Oct. 7, 2012, in his team’s dramatic 24-20 come-from-behind victory against the New York Giants on Sunday.

“I think I did OK,” Jones said. “I wish I could have caught all 15, but it happens.”

As high a level as Jones attained in 2014, his nine catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns in his team’s 26-24 decision over the Philadelphia Eagles in the opener and now his heroics at MetLife Stadium suggest he continues to climb.

It’s unfortunate that Jones and Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant won’t be on the field together with the Falcons face the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. Both signed long-term contract extension this past offseason.

“Every year I challenge myself to get better. You can’t settle,” Jones said. “I try to get better, get wiser. Everybody says it, but it’s true. You’ve got to go out and challenge yourself.”

Jones was clutch against the Giants.

With the Falcons having rallied from a 20-10 deficit but still trailing 20-17 with 1:53 left, quarterback Matt Ryan looked for Jones, who was streaking down the left sideline. Jones gained the step he needed on cornerback Prince Amukamara. Ryan lofted a spiral just in front of Jones, who attacked the ball in the air for an acrobatic reception.

The play was initially ruled a touchdown, but a review showed that Jones was down at the Giants’ 1-yard line. No matter. Two plays later, Devonta Freeman plunged in for the winning score.

Jones was elated to tie Gonzalez’s mark. He has immense respect for the future Hall of Fame inductee.

“I was here with Tony,” Jones said. “He was a phenomenal player, an incredible person, unbelievable all the way around.”

Jones, who was battling a hamstring injury, clearly didn’t have the explosion after the catch that he showed last week against the Eagles, when he caught nine passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns, but he was still a force.

With 3:12 left to play, Ryan knew he had plenty of time to pull out his latest caper.

He enjoyed Jones’ big play down the stretch.

“It looked pretty good from where I was at,” Ryan said of Jones’ spectacular catch. “Obviously, Julio is an unbelievable player. He had another huge game.”

Ryan knew he had to take a shot on a long ball.

“In that situation, we saw one-on-one coverage,” Ryan said. “It was a great play-call from (offensive coordinator) Kyle (Shanahan). I just tried to put it in a place for him to make a play and he did it.”

Ryan completed 30 of 46 passes for 363 yards and one touchdown. He finished with a passer rating of 96.6.

“Anytime that you’re going to throw the ball 40-something times, you’ve got to distribute it,” Ryan said. “I thought those guys did a good job of stepping up for us. Leonard Hankerson made a great catch in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.

“He had another one where we got it to the 1-inch line, which was a huge third-down conversion. I’m happy for Hank. He’s worked really hard.”

–Falcons running back Tevin Coleman has a cracked rib and will miss practice this week, according to head coach Dan Quinn.

The team would not rule out Coleman for Sunday’s game against Dallas, but Quinn would not put a timetable of Coleman’s recovery. Devonta Freeman took over for Coleman, finishing with 25 yards on 12 carries, including the game-winning touchdown run from 2 yards out. Freeman and Terron Ward are the lone two healthy running backs on the roster.

REPORT CARD VS. GIANTS

PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus – Matt Ryan completed 30 of 46 passes for 363 yards and one touchdown. He finished with a passer rating of 96.6. Ryan was 8-for-13 for 145 yards and one touchdown in the fourth quarter. His best ball was his 46th attempt. He lofted a nice spiral out to Julio Jones, who attacked the ball and came down with a 37-yard reception over Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara. In all, seven receivers caught passes and 10 were targeted. Jones turned in an awesome showing with 13 catches for 135 yards. Hankerson had 11 targets and caught six passes for 77 yards and a touchdown. Roddy White was only targeted once and didn’t have a catch. Tight end Jacob Tamme had four catches for 77 yards, including a big 41-yard gain after Biermann’s turnover to jumpstart the offense. Tamme showed some moves on the run after the catch.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D-minus – Tevin Coleman had nine rushes for 32 yards before leaving the game with a rib injury. Devonta Freeman had 12 carries for 25 yards. Both backs had one rushing touchdown. The team was hopeful that Coleman’s injury was not too serious. The unit didn’t open up many holes in the run game. The Falcons averaged a horrid 2.5 yards per carry. That won’t be good enough to make linebackers honor all of the play-action fakes.

PASS DEFENSE: C-minus – The Falcons had two sacks and four quarterback hits. It was a rough day for the secondary, which gave up 292 yards passing, including a 67-yard touchdown catch-and-run by New York wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Rookie Robenson Therezie replaced Ricardo Allen at free safety and finished the game there. Allen had to settle down and had a case of the cramps. He said the team had to make some adjustments after he missed the tackle on Beckham. Robert Alford didn’t have a good outing, but he kept battling. Nickel back Phillips Adams had seven tackles.

RUSH DEFENSE: B – Defensive tackles Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson played much more than the 14 and 16 snaps they saw against the Eagles. They helped to slow down the Giant running backs, who had 21 carries for 74 yards (3.5 yards per carry). Jonathan Babineaux had six tackles including one for a loss. Vic Beasley had five tackles and his first NFL sack. Jackson added five tackles. With middle linebacker Paul Worrilow slowed by a calf injury, Justin Durant led the Falcons with 10 tackles. Worrilow was replacedby Allen Bradford, but he returned to the game. He finished with three tackles.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus – Punter Matt Bosher averaged 54.6 yards on five punts, but had a net average of 37.4. Matt Bryant made a 42-yard field goal. Eric Weems had a 21-yard kickoff return and 10 yards on a punt return. The coverage team gave up a 29-yard punt return and 41-yard kickoff return to Dwayne Harris.

COACHING: B-minus – Falcons coach Dan Quinn promised that the Falcons would finish games. On Sunday, they finished the game against the Giants with key plays from Biermann, Tamme, Ryan and Jones. Why the Falcons didn’t match cornerback Desmond Trufant on Beckham was a coaching mystery. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan did a fabulous job considering the team didn’t have a rushing attack for three quarters of the game.


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