Near the end, Julio Jones trudged wearily to the sideline, hands on his hips, exhausted from serving as the Falcons’ one-man offense at times against the Rams Sunday.
“I’m all right,” Jones said afterwards. “It was just a long game.”
With the running game essentially shelved after running back Steven Jackson left early with a thigh injury and wide receiver Roddy White still hobbled by an ankle injury, Jones had to be Atlanta’s main play-maker on the outside. He delivered with a career-high 11 catches for 182 yards and a touchdown in the 31-24 Falcons victory at the Georgia Dome.
“I was just trying to do my job,” Jones said. “I know the other 10 guys on the field with me (are) counting on me to make those plays.”
Quarterback Matt Ryan targeted Jones with 14 of his 43 pass attempts (33 percent). In two games this season, Jones has totaled 18 receptions for 258 yards and two touchdowns.
“I think that we’re at a better place than we’ve ever been and I have a ton of confidence when I look his way,” Ryan said.
Jones’ 81-yard touchdown in the first quarter was the longest play of the game. Jones ran down the right side while a St. Louis safety floated to the other side of the field, leaving Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins one-on-one against Jones.
Jones gained a step on Jenkins, caught the ball near Atlanta’s 45-yard line and ran away from Jenkins for the score.
“I threw the ball probably 20 yards,” Ryan said. “He did most of the work.”
Ryan continually went to Jones with short passes and Jones gained yards by making quick, compact moves that most men his size (6 foot 3, 220 pounds) can’t. At times the Rams appeared to anticipate that Jones would get the ball on screen plays but he still gained yards after the catch.
“Defenses may think they know it’s coming but there is something in the back of their mind where they are like, ‘OK, wait a second. I can’t really crowd this guy because I think the screen is coming. Because if I do and this guy goes over the top, I’m going to get burned deep,’” Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez said.
The Rams couldn’t stop Jones even when a key play did not unfold as expected.
The Falcons were clinging to a 24-17 lead and facing a third-and-3 at the Rams’ 40-yard line. St. Louis had good coverage for the play the Falcons called, but Ryan scrambled outside of the pocket and heaved a pass high into the air with defenders closing in on Jones.
He still made the catch to keep alive a drive that ended with Jason Snelling’s 11-yard touchdown run, which wound up deciding the game.
“Just staying moving and never giving up on a play because you don’t know when you are going to be needed,” Jones said.