Julio Jones returns to help spark Falcons’ offense

Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, after not playing in the last game and a half with a hamstring injury, returned to help uplift the offense.

Jones finished with eight catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns, including a 40-yarder off a broken play that helped the Falcons put the Vikings away in the 40-23 victory Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

It was Jones’ 57th career game with at least 100 receiving yards, which is the most among active players and the fourth-most in NFL history. Jerry Rice (76), Randy Moss (64) and Marvin Harrison (59), who all have busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, have had more in NFL history.

“(There’s) nothing holding me back,” Jones said. “I’m ready to go. More practice and more games to be all the way myself.”

After linebacker Deion Jones intercepted a pass on Minnesota’s first play of the game, the offense scored five plays later when Matt Ryan tossed an 20-yard touchdown to Jones.

“At the end of the day, I felt great coming into this game,” Jones said. “No complaints. No hamstring injury issues. No tightness and things like that to prevent me from bring who I want to be on game day.” After the firing of head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff last Sunday, interim coach Raheem Morris turned up the heat on the team in meetings and at practice.

“It was small things, but they were huge,” Jones said. " Being able to repeat a play. He was like, no you’ll get it later on. When you’re in a game you can’t repeat that play. You have to be perfect right then and there. There was no, we’ll get it next time, we’ll get it next time."

It appeared that Jones would be ready to go on Friday as he was seen sprinting for the first time in weeks. The offense had been putting moving the ball, but Morris told them they needed to score touchdowns.

“At the end of the day, we have to do to it,” Jones said. “We just have to believe in one another. Get put in the right situations and then we have to execute.”

After his first touchdown, Jones started doing the “mix-it-up” celebration, while channeling the Atlanta Braves.

“I’m a big Braves fan,” Jones said. “Any team in Atlanta, I’m riding with them. I’m looking forward to Game 7. Even us, we were 0-5. We have lost five games. We don’t look at that kind of stuff. We have to do what’s in front of us today.”

The Falcons scored on 8 of 12 possessions, with one kneel down at the end of the game.

Jones added a 40-yard touchdown in the third quarter to put the Falcons up 30-7. He ran inside and then broke back outside. Ryan was scrambling about.

The cornerback started moving forward to Ryan and Jones took off. Ryan backed up and tossed a soft pass to Jones, who raced into the end zone.

“That was a great play by Julio,” Ryan said. “Just his patience on the outside and letting it develop. I think having played together for as long as we have, you kind of have a feel for what each other is going to do. It came at a clutch time. We needed a play. That was awesome.”

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, left, celebrates with quarterback Matt Ryan (2) after catching a 20-yard touchdown pass during the first half against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, in Minneapolis. (Bruce Kluckhohn/AP)

Credit: AP

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Credit: AP

Now, with the first win under their belts, Jones thinks the team can move forward.

“It can be done,” Jones said.

While no team has ever rebounded for 0-5 to make the playoffs, the Falcons are hoping they have turned a corner.

“It’s very important for us, we still have to do what we do,” Jones said. “We could have played better in this game. We just have to correct those mistakes that we (made) in this game. Ultimately, we got the win, but there is still room for improvement for us.”

Interim coach Morris, who was Jones’ position coach for three and half seasons (2016-2019, eight games), was elated to have him back.

“Anytime you’re talking about one of the best receivers, if not the best receiver in the game or ever, it’s always good to have him,” Morris said. “You know how much respect I have for Julio and how much fun I had coaching him, even more now just watching him go out there and play for his team, for his guys, for everybody involved. He’s just great to be around.”

Falcons' next four games

Lions at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday Oct. 25

Falcons at Panthers at 8:20 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29

Broncos at Falcons at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8

Falcons at Saints at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22

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