Julio Jones has torched countless teams over the course of his illustrious career. There aren’t many opponents that escaped without being on the receiving end of a dominant showing. No team has endured more punishment than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In fourteen games against them, Jones averages 121 yards per game. A career stat line of 102 receptions, 1695 receiving yards, and 11 touchdowns indicates how much Jones enjoys playing against Tampa Bay. Despite entering the game suffering from hip and rib injuries, he wasn’t going to be denied of another productive day.
In this feature, I’ll be looking at one of the more significant plays from the Falcons’ previous game. It will be left out of my weekly GIF review for the purpose of further assessment on why it should be considered as a meaningful moment. Jones made several impressive plays in what was one of his best performances of the season. His catch in the early stages of the fourth quarter stood out amongst a crowded pack.
The Falcons are holding onto a four-point lead to begin the fourth quarter. Starting off at their own 25-yard line, they’re looking to score on their fifth consecutive drive after facing a 17-point deficit. To start off in the I formation indicates either a run or play action design in most situations. Steve Sarkisian opts to run a bootleg to the left. It’s something Matt Ryan wasn’t always comfortable doing a few years ago. His first season under Kyle Shanahan proved to be problematic in a multitude of ways. Not being comfortable moving to his left was one of the more notable issues.
Ryan has shown considerable improvement in that area over the past three seasons. With him moving to the left, there is hope a high-percentage look opens up. Due to the lack of creativity on the route concepts, Ryan must hope someone creates separation. Mohamed Sanu’s delayed out route gets easily telegraphed. The tight coverage on a crossing Austin Hooper rules him out of being a capable option. Only one other player can possibly make this play work. It just so happens to be the best wide receiver in football.
Jones is isolated against Ryan Smith on the outside. In a stunning 253-yard performance last year against Tampa Bay, Jones left Smith searching for answers on numerous occasions. His craftiness, explosiveness, and wicked movement gave the former fourth round pick fits during the entire game. While Smith wasn’t forced into covering him for long stretches, he found himself on the receiving end of another highlight-reel play.
The coverage is tight at the start of the play. Smith is hand fighting, and looking to limit as much space as possible. By pressing him to the sideline, the young corner is hoping he can jump the route to make a play on the ball. The six-time Pro Bowler has other ideas. At first, it appears he is going to run a comeback. Based on the poor field conditions, it’s difficult to confirm what Jones was attempting to do. Whether he was trying to set up a comeback or running an out-and-up, his main objective was accomplished. He created more than enough separation to give Ryan a golden opportunity.
The balance and footwork on this particular route is exceptional. Jones sets up Smith beautifully to leave him in no man’s land, as he sprints downfield into acres of space. That gives the former MVP time to loft a beautiful ball into the waiting hands of Jones. What makes the play even more special is how the 2018 receiving yards king maintains possession.
Isaiah Johnson lands a hard hit directly into Jones’ hip. Nobody reported on if it was the previously injured hip. Regardless of his injury situation, it’s an outstanding catch showing how extraordinary he truly is. The 37-yard catch immediately put the Falcons in good field position, which ultimately led to another scoring drive. It’s moments like this that demonstrate how Jones has established himself as the best wide receiver in football.