Falcons defensive coordinator preparing his unit to face New Orleans on Thanksgiving Night.

Falcons linebacker Deion Jones may return against Saints

Here was “Debo,” owner of the broken foot that kept the Falcons’ best defender out of the past nine games, pulling everybody’s foot even as  numbers don’t lie about whether he likes playing against New Orleans.

“If I play this weekend, it’ll just be another opportunity to be out there with my boys,” he said after reporters twisted his arm to answer a few questions following the Falcons’ rare evening walk-through. “That’s pretty much how I’m looking at it.”

So, it’ll be no big deal to get back to work in New Orleans, where you were a legend at Jesuit High before starring at nearby LSU?

“Nah,” he said. “I just want to be back on the field. I’d rather be on the field.”

The Falcons want their middle linebacker back, too, and not just because he went to the Pro Bowl earlier this year after his second season as a professional, but also because Jones slays the Saints like nobody’s business.

And oh, yeah, he’s by far the best option the Falcons have to cover Alvin Kamara, the Saints’ menace from Norcross, who might well be the best pass-catching running back in the NFL.

This all goes beyond the two plays that foggy-headed Falcons fans might best remember.

You know, the 90-yard interception return in New Orleans his rookie season, when the Falcons beat the Saints 45-32 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in the Big Easy.

And who can forget his game-clinching end-zone interception last season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium when the Falcons won 20-17 and he tied a career high with 13 combined tackles and assists?

 

That’s merely two plays among hundreds he’s played against the Saints.

So, it’s time to go to numbers to debunk a ruse.

Jones has played 32 regular-season games, and in four against the Saints (12.5 percent of his total), he’s registered 38 of his 255 career tackles against the black and gold (14.9 percent), eight of his 23 pass breakups (34.8 percent), five of his 14 tackles for lost yardage (22.4 percent) and three of his seven interceptions (42.9 percent).

So, wait; playing against the Saints is no big deal?

Never mind that he’s 3-1 against New Orleans, nor that when the teams met earlier this season and he didn’t play, the Saints won 43-37 in overtime in Atlanta and Kamara caught 15 passes for 124 yards. A certain 6-foot-1, 227-pound young man considered by some to be the NFL’s best coverage linebacker was in sweats on the sideline for that one.

Coach Dan Quinn likes the idea of Mr. Jones returning, even if he doesn’t want to be a star against his hometown team.

“And more for the matchup than anything else,” he said, most likely referencing Jones’ predilection for covering linebackers and tight ends snugly in the pass game. “So, he’s going to do some more work now post-practice (Monday night) so we’ll get a better assessment of where he’s at. Although the team did a walk-through tonight, no walk-through for him.”

It might be folly to read anything out of that. Could be another ruse. 

Or maybe Quinn’s comments piggyback Jones’ odd hesitancy to talk with reporters.

Maybe he won’t play.

Defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel has no choice in the matter, but clearly he would prefer to have the Falcons’ man of mystery back as Atlanta (4-6) dangles from the end of a playoff rope held by the Saints (9-1).

“I see it like this ... just Deion’s presence back (in meetings and walk-throughs) has been huge on the other guys,” he said. “If and when he comes back ... his presence alone has done a good job.”

There’s enough obfuscation here to wonder if Jones’ foot still hurts.

When he was activated last week off short-term injured reserve, there was optimism that he would play against the Cowboys. 

In retrospect, it was probably less likely that the Falcons were going to throw him back into competitive fire with another game just four days away rather than wait a few more days and re-engage him against a team that he’s played so well against. 

Deion’s not saying much to reporters, maybe because he didn’t want to be asked if he’s going to play (which he wasn’t asked in the blitzkrieg media session), but he said he’s talking to everybody in the Falcons organization. So that’s good.

“I’m constantly communicating with them and they’re constantly communicating with me,” he said. “It’s not like I’m gone or anything. I’m still involved. Like I said, when I get out there it’s basically to be with those guys.”

Who knows if it matters that he didn’t have an opinion even on the first day the Falcons began studying the Saints on whether or not New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees is playing the best football of his life?

As he said, “I haven’t been paying attention to tell the truth.”

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