Julio Jones is still making some dynamic plays for the Atlanta Falcons.
There was his touchdown catch at New England , where he went up over Malcolm Butler in the corner of the end zone and snatched the ball away, as if to say, “Get that weak stuff outta here!”
Not to mention a 53-yard grab against the New York Jets, when Jones breathtakingly accelerated down the middle of the field, beating two defenders with a speed of 21.13 mph (faster than any other player in Week 8, according to NFL’s Next Gen Stats ) and hauled in the pass from Matt Ryan.
Even so, there’s no doubt that Jones’ numbers are down rather significantly in several key areas — most notably, touchdowns and yards per game — which has sparked a running stream of questions about his role in the Atlanta offense.
Jones doesn’t sound the least bit concerned.
“I don’t need validation from anybody,” he said Thursday, standing at his locker before practice, “or numbers to tell me throughout the year what type of player I am.”
Jones is not having a poor season by any stretch. Projected over a full season, he’d finish with 85 receptions for 1,234 yards.
But he’s got only one TD — that catch against the Patriots in the closing minutes of an ugly 23-7 loss — and his average of 77.1 yards per game would be his lowest since 2012, after four straight seasons of producing more than 100 yards each time out.
Frankly, it’s more than a little odd to look at the NFL’s receiving stats and see Jones only fifth in yards per game — he led the league in that category the past two seasons — and way down in 20th with just 37 receptions.
A year ago, Jones had 83 receptions for 1,409 yards and six touchdowns despite missing two games with an injury.
In 2015, playing all 16 games, he turned in one of the greatest receiving seasons in NFL history: 136 catches, 1,871 yards and eight TDs.
With the Falcons (4-3) heading into a crucial NFC South game against the Carolina Panthers (5-3), coach Dan Quinn is constantly stressing to the offense that it needs to find ways to get Jones more involved.
“We think that all the time,” Quinn said Thursday. “He’s always a factor to me.”
Specifically, Quinn wants his best receiver to have more of an impact on third down.
“He leads our team in explosive plays by quite a bit,” the coach said. “He hasn’t had as many opportunities on third down, so for sure that’s a part of our game that we know we can improve upon.”
Jones is not one of those diva receivers who constantly demands the ball. He has said over and over again — and he did again Thursday — that the only stat of concern to him is the won-loss record.
“If we dial the play up, I’m going to go out there and try to make the best of it,” Jones said. “I’m very explosive down the field, but people can’t see what we see on the field. A lot of people try to take me away early on. You can’t see it. There might be one guy, but the safety’s cheating over and things like that.”
Certainly, there’s no fretting about making sure he winds up with roughly the same numbers as other years.
“I don’t look in the past,” Jones said. “I’m a day-to-day guy. I’m in that game. I do my best in that game. After it’s over and done with, it’s behind me.”
While first-year coordinator Steve Sarkisian has taken much of the rap for a dip in the entire Atlanta offense, which led the league in scoring a year ago but is in the middle of the pack this season, quarterback Matt Ryan said the Falcons have always operated on the philosophy of taking what the defense gives.
Some weeks, it’s Jones’ time to shine.
Other weeks, someone else steps up.
Against the Jets, Mohamed Sanu had six catches for 74 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter that put the Falcons ahead to stay . Jones was double-covered on the play, and Ryan found the open man.
“(The ball) is going to find different guys at different times,” Ryan said. “When the matchup calls for it, certain people are going to step up and have a big games. Last week, Mohamed Sanu had a bunch of really good opps for us and I thought played really well.”
This might be Jones’ week to shine. The Panthers have an aggressive, gambling defense, which can lead to game-turning plays but also gives the offense chances to strike for big chunks.
Last season, Jones had 12 catches for a career-best 300 yards against Carolina.
“They know us, we know them,” he said. “So you’ve got to take advantage of it, like we have in the past.”
If not, Jones won’t sweat it.
As long as the Falcons win, he’s good.