Falcons’ receivers step up with Julio Jones out

Without wide receiver Julio Jones, the Falcons needed some players to pitch in and do a little more.

“Whenever you’re missing Julio, as great a player as he is, you have got to have people step up,” Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris said Sunday after the 43-6 shellacking of the Las Vegas Raiders. “We have guys who are very capable of doing.”

Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley led the way with six catches for 50 yards and a key 4-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.

Four other receivers caught passes, including Brandon Powell, who had a 4-yard touchdown catch.

Russell Gage had three catches for 34 yards, including a 20-yard gainer.

Powell finished with two catches for 4 yards and Christian Blake has a catch for 17 yards.

“Those guys have been stepping up all year when they’ve been called upon and it’s been really nice to see,” Morris said.

Ridley suffered a foot/ankle injury but returned to the game. Olamide Zaccheaus, who had a catch for 11 yards, suffered a toe injury and did not return.

The Falcons know they can’t replace Jones, the seven-time Pro Bowl selection, who’s been slowed this season by a tricky left hamstring. He’s missed two full games and major parts of two others. He played sparingly in the second half of the 24-9 loss against New Orleans on Nov. 22.

“Defenses feel his presence,” Gage said of Jones. “We understand that when he’s out there he’s going to get double teamed so there’s going to be a lot more one-on-one opportunities. Even though there were still opportunities with him not being out there, we can definitely still feel the difference by the defense and the way they game-plan.”

Most of the Raiders’ attention was on Ridley as they kept a safety over the top to cut down his deep routes. The Falcons adjusted and started hitting Ridley underneath.

“We put it all together,” Gage said. “That was the biggest thing. We know the type of team we are and the type of team we want to be. Today, I really think we really came out and showed it. We dominated, executed, and that was the result, so I’m really proud of us.”

In addition to being without Jones, running back Todd Gurley also missed the game.

“Our boys stepped up and did a great job,” Gage said. “Ito (Smith) and (Brian) Hill did a great job in the run game. Really pressing their guys, running the ball hard and strong. It’s definitely understood that we’re going to play hard for TG and Julio.”

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Brandon Powell celebrate Powell’s touchdown reception against the Las Vegas Raiders during the third quarter Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The offensive line, which was maligned after giving up eight sacks and 11 quarterback hits in the loss to the Saints, only gave up one sack and eight quarterback hits to the Raiders.

“It was a big emphasis,” Gage said. “It was understood that Matt Ryan got hit too many times. They knew that. Those are a great group of guys who want to see our offense be successful. So, I knew they were going to go out here and make adjustments and they did a great job today.”

The Falcons’ 43 points are the most points scored by the Falcons since Week 9 of the 2016 season, when they scored 43 against Tampa Bay.

The Falcons’ 37-point margin of victory is the largest since Week 3 of the 2014 season against Tampa Bay (42).

With better protection, Ryan completed 22 of 39 passes for 185 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for a 75.3 passer rating.

Ryan is now 11-3 against the AFC West, with two more games this season.

“I think it’s tough to replace that production when (Jones) is out,” Ryan said. “I thought our guys did a nice job going out there competing. It made it even tougher when Olamide went out of the game too, but Christian Blake and Brandon Powell did a nice job of filling in.

“I appreciate their effort, professionalism and readiness at any moment to go in and play all kinds of positions for us.”

The Falcons are hoping to get Jones and Gurley back for their rematch with the Saints at 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“We can’t wait to get those guys back, but we have some weapons all over,” Smith said.

The Falcons are now 4-2 under Morris.

“I love coach Raheem,” Gage said. “He definitely has a head coach mentality. He brings a lot of energy to this team and he does a great job in getting us up.

“He understands what we want and our standard in this organization. So, I love him and I love to see him here. Obviously, it’s not my call, but he’s a great guy and a great coach.”

Falcons’ next four games

Saints at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6

Falcons at Chargers at 4:25 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 13

Buccaneers at Falcons at 1 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 20

Falcons at Chiefs at 1 p.m., Dec. 27

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