Deion Jones soars to save the day for the Falcons

Deion Jones wasn’t sure what his vertical leap was at the NFL scouting combine.

“I have absolutely no clue,” Jones said.

He wasn’t sure what it was at his childhood basketball courts in New Orleans, either.

But with the game on the line Thursday night, he soared figuratively to the top of the Halo Scoreboard and hauled in a pass from Saints quarterback Drew Brees to preserve a hard-fought 20-17 victory and keep the Falcons’ NFC South title hopes alive.

“Deion Jones made a terrific play to cap it off,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said.

The Falcons improved to 8-5, while the Saints dropped to 9-4. The Falcons trail the Saints by one game with three games to play. The teams meet again Dec. 24 in New Orleans.

With Saints coach Sean Payton taunting running back Devonta Freeman with the choke sign, the Falcons needed Jones’ interception to hold off the bad-mannered Saints on their first trip to the $1.5 billion football cathedral.

On a day when the Falcons’ offense was color-rushing red all outside of the lines, the defense came up with big plays to earn the victory.

With quarterback Matt Ryan misfiring, the Falcons somehow built a 20-17 lead. The Saints had the ball and were driving with the clock winding down.

Quinn turned down a holding penalty thinking the Saints would kick a field goal for a tie. But the Saints elected to go for it on the fourth-and-inches play and picked up the first down on a Brees sneak.

Two plays later, on second-and-10 from the Falcons 11, Brees tried to connect with tight end Josh Hill in the back of the end zone. But Jones has dropped back into his zone and made an incredible play on the ball.

“I knew I was isolated,” Jones said. “I thought Drew knew that. When the tight end looked back, I looked back and the ball was right there. I tried to make a play on the ball. I just happened to catch it. It was a long way down. But I had to hold on to it.”

Jones cradled the ball with both arms before being mobbed by his teammates and then dragged by his feet out of the end zone in celebration.

“I was to the right of him,” free safety Ricardo Allen said. “He jumped off the ground pretty high. He was up there. He couldn’t land on his feet. He ended up falling on his neck. I was surprised he still caught it. But I’m happy that he did.”

Jones was all over the field for the Falcons during the game.

He was in the backfield making tackles. He was in the flat breaking up screens plays. He was down the field in zone defense attacking balls thrown over his head.

Jones finished with 13 tackles, three tackles for loss, two passes defensed and one potentially season-saving interception.

He’s asked to do a lot in the Falcons’ defensive scheme.

Quinn credited defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel and linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich with knowing how to utilize Jones.

They have roles for him in man-to-man defenses and zone coverages.

“Those are the things that we love about his game, so we try to feature him in those roles as often as we can,” Quinn said.

Jones, who has a 6-month-old daughter at home, was happy to help the save the game.

“It’s great, Jones said. “We always talk about getting closures. Being the baddest on the field. It’s a product of our hard work.”

After Ryan’s three interceptions, the defense allowed only one score.

“The offense, I feel like they did a great job,” Jones said. “Things just happened. We have had to have their back and make the most of the opportunities when we are out there.”

Quinn is not sure how high Jones elevated on the interception.

“I can’t wait to see it because anytime that it takes a while to land, you know that you’re up there,” Quinn said. “He definitely went up there and reached for it.

“In terms of his ability to go up there and make plays, it showed up again tonight. That’s part preparation. That’s part of him the athlete. Those guys on defense I thought really stood up and showed a lot of resiliency.”

For the record, Jones didn't jump at the combine. But at his Pro Day at LSU, he had a 35 ½-inch vertical. 

Falcons coach Dan Quinn discusses Deion Jones’s interception and his other key plays in the 20-17 win over the Saints. Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter