On Sunday, Julio Jones became the first player in NFL history to post multiple 150-yard, two touchdown games in the postseason. He did so by using his unique, and devastating, combination of size, speed, and preternatural body control to make exceptional catches and masterful touchdowns.
How does he make the dramatic, game-changing plays that he does on such a consistent basis?
Mohamed Sanu, his teammate and fellow receiver, may have provided the only rational explanation.
Julio Jones is virtually unstoppable
Head coach Dan Quinn said in the week leading up to the matchup against the Packers that Jones’ ability to control his body distinguishes him from other receivers.
“When you catch it, you make the catch and you go to the ground and take care of the ball,” Quinn said. “That’s just the play starting for him. So he can go and catch it and turn his body in a unique way and land on his feet to get him down, and then extend the play.”
The body control Jones plays with is extraordinary. You see it every time he makes an acrobatic catch, leaping higher than defenders, coming down with the ball, and somehow, some way, getting his feet down in bounds on a regular basis.
We saw that on Jones’ first touchdown catch against the Packers. In real time, even though the officials ruled it a touchdown, it looked like Jones’ second foot may have not gotten down in bounds.
But he did. With incredible discipline, Jones brought down his instep in bounds for the score. LaDarius Gunter, the Green Bay cornerback tasked with stopping Jones, never had a chance. Very few corners in this league do against that kind of natural ability.
Matt Ryan was certainly impressed.
“I mean, right before the end of the half, the back shoulder catch that he made, his ability to get his feet down — it’s just special, what he’s capable of doing,” Ryan said.
Sanu was, as well.
“I knew it was going to Julio, so I just sat back and watched,” Sanu said. “It was pretty. It was beautiful. That guy’s an alien. It was definitely a sight to see.”
Jones’ size and speed and the way they separate him from most of the competition on the field on any given Sunday were on display during his second touchdown reception of the day.
This isn’t even fair.
“They are going to try to pull you, mess up the timing and the rhythm the receiver and the quarterback has,” Jones said about the play. “I went out and Matt [Ryan] gave me a great ball. He gave me a floater and let me run through the ball. After that, those guys weren’t going to tackle me once I got going.”
Jones is too big and too fast and too physical for these Green Bay defenders to contend with. He has Gunter beat with sheer speed, and then Damarious Randall tries to bring Jones down. Nope.
The stiff arm Jones gives Randall is a perfect example of why his physical nature and his strength are key elements of his elite talent. Randall has no chance here. Jones fights him off with the stiff arm and blows past him for another touchdown.
“From a uniqueness part of what Julio does, for a bigger guy, he can change direction and has body balance like a smaller guy,” Quinn said. “So we often make the comparison for a guy who can play inside in the slot, there are smaller guys who can break people off in man-to-man.
“He just happens to be a 6’3, 220-pound guy that can play and lower his weight like a smaller guy.”
It’s even more impressive when you know that Jones did all of this on Sunday with a toe sprain that kept him out of practice for the majority of the week.
“He’s made a lot of plays at less than 100 percent.”
Jones was held out of practice until Friday with a sprained toe that’s troubled him throughout the last several weeks. There was never any real concern that he wouldn’t be a factor for the Falcons on Sunday.
But for a player like Jones who relies on that explosive speed to get separation and make plays, an injury of that nature is problematic. He needs to be able to plant and that foot on the ground to get that burst that’s so difficult to defend, and that’s excruciatingly painful.
Jones said he was in pain, but he “got the job done.” It was certainly never a question for him. If he could run, he was going to play.
“If I was just doing it for myself, it’d be easy to quit on myself, but when you’re doing it for other people you’re going to do it,” Jones said. “For me, it’s just about getting out there on the field and being able to run. Once I knew I could run, I was good to go.”
Quinn acknowledged that Jones’ performance was “typical” for the dynamic receiver, regardless of his health.
“For sure, he was battling through it, and in typical Julio fashion, came through in the biggest way,” Quinn said.
He did come through for his team, finishing the game with 180 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
The entire Falcons offense has been dynamic and productive this season, but Jones stands out.
“He’s just an absolute stud, and I’ve been so lucky to have played with him for as long as I have,” Ryan said. “But he was impressive today, and I know he wasn’t feeling his best, but he’s a warrior. He went out there and competed really, really well for us.”
Jones finished the season with 1,409 receiving yards and six touchdowns. This postseason, Jones has contributed 247 yards and three touchdowns against the Seattle Seahawks and the Packers.
The Patriots allowed just 237.9 passing yards and 15.6 points per game this season, but Jones thinks that doesn’t matter. He knows that if he keeps playing at this level, and if his teammates around him keeps rising to the occasion, it will be hard for the Patriots to reign in Atlanta’s offensive attack.
“I would say so because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter about who we are playing or what they are doing,” Jones said. “It’s all about us.”
It won’t be an easy road, but Jones’ skill and athleticism give Atlanta a tremendous advantage.