Julio Jones has been at his best on Thursday nights

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) and wide receiver Julio Jones (11) take the field ahead of game against the Detroit Lions Sunday, Oct 25, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.  (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Combined ShapeCaption
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) and wide receiver Julio Jones (11) take the field ahead of game against the Detroit Lions Sunday, Oct 25, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

In the midst of a short week of preparation, Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones said his health feels great.

Earlier this season, Jones dealt with a nagging hamstring injury that forced him to miss games against the Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers. Entering Thursday’s rematch against the Panthers, Jones now is managing a minor hip injury that caused him to be limited in Tuesday’s practice.

Even so, Jones said he’s used the past two days to get his body in the shape he needs it to be before Thursday’s kickoff. And the Falcons will need him, considering his absence hurt the first time around against Carolina in what was a 23-16 loss Oct. 11 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“I feel great going into the game,” Jones said. “I wasn’t able to help the guys out as much as I needed to the last time we played them. I was just those guys' eyes. Now, the physicality side of it, going out there and making plays, I can do that starting this Thursday. I’m looking forward to it and being out there with the guys, performing and getting the (win).”

If Jones is in as good of health as he claims to be, perhaps he will produce another big game against the Panthers. By nothing but sheer chance, Jones has consistently played the best games of his career on Thursday nights. On eight Thursday night outings, Jones has caught 65.6% of his targets for an average of 114 yards per game. Both of those numbers are better than any other day he’s played an NFL game. Jones' average of 10.1 yards per target on Thursday also out-paces his performances on either Saturday, Sunday or Monday.

Here’s a look back at each of Jones' Thursday night games:

  • Dec. 15, 2011 vs. Jacksonville: Falcons won 41-14, Jones caught five passes for 85 yards and a touchdown.
  • Nov. 29, 2012 vs. New Orleans: Falcons won 23-13, Jones caught five passes for 48 yards.
  • Sept. 18, 2014 vs. Tampa Bay: Falcons won 56-14, Jones caught nine passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns.
  • Oct. 15, 2015 at New Orleans: Saints won 31-21, Jones caught six passes for 93 yards.
  • Nov. 3, 2016 at Tampa Bay: Falcons won 43-28, Jones caught eight passes for 111 yards and a touchdown.
  • Dec. 7, 2017 vs. New Orleans: Falcons won 20-17, Jones caught five passes for 98 yards.
  • Sept. 6, 2018 at Philadelphia: Eagles won 18-12, Jones caught 10 passes for 169 yards.
  • Nov. 22, 2018 at New Orleans: Saints won 31-17, Jones caught 11 passes for 147 yards.

Last season, Jones missed the Falcons' lone Thursday game, a home loss to the Saints on Thanksgiving, because of a shoulder injury.

Although it’s nothing more than a coincidence, Jones has produced big in Thursday games. At the same time, it remains a challenge for players, including Jones, to recover from the previous game since it comes only four days later.

Jones was asked how he feels, in general, about Thursday games because of the quick turnaround from playing a game the Sunday before.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I’m a professional, right? We’re all asked to do the same thing. It’s not like they’re asking me by myself to go do this by myself. Collectively, it’s teams going out there. It’s the Atlanta Falcons and the Carolina Panthers right now. It’s a short week but all of us have to do it. Get your body right so we can go handle business.”

Jones' availability has played a major role in quarterback Matt Ryan’s success as a passer this season. When Jones has been available, Ryan has completed 71% of his passes with an average of 343 yards and two touchdowns per game. This includes the Green Bay loss, which saw Jones exit early after aggravating his hamstring injury.

Without Jones, Ryan has completed 53.3% of his passes with an average of 232 yards and 0.5 touchdowns per game. As it’s been since the Falcons drafted him in 2011, life is much easier for Ryan when Jones in the starting lineup.

“He’s such a dynamic player for us,” Ryan said. “He changes how people want to defend you. He just commands double coverage at certain times, which opens it up for other guys.”

Since Jones didn’t play in the Falcons' first game against the Panthers, it remains to be seen how first-year coach Matt Rhule and defensive coordinator Phil Snow will choose to defend him. If the Panthers add a second defender to Jones, that should open up man coverage opportunities for Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage and Hayden Hurst. If the Panthers opt to single-cover Jones, Ryan could look his way a ton.

Only two days after the Falcons' sixth loss of the season, a 23-22 defeat to the Detroit Lions, Jones said his body has recovered the way he hoped. From there, Jones will certainly hope he can replicate some of those previous big games on Thursday night.

“It comes with eating properly, getting the right amount of rest, taking care of yourself, seeing a chiropractor, massages, things like that,” Jones said. “Hydration, a lot of things go into getting your body back. For me, this week, it’s amazing because it is a short week, but I feel great already. I’m ready to go.”