ATLANTA – We've been waiting all season long for Julio Jones to have a breakout game.
And on Sunday against NFC South rivals Tampa Bay, we got a big one as Jones had one of the best days of his career. The Falcons' seventh-year receiver finished with 12 catches for 253 yards and two touchdowns – leading the Falcons (7-4) to an important 34-20 win over the visiting Bucs (4-7) as they keep pace in the NFC South.
- NFC playoff picture: Where the Falcons currently stand
This was Jones's third career game with 250-plus receiving yards. No other active player in the NFL has more than one.
After a quiet first quarter, Jones exploded for 133 yards and two scores in the second quarter alone. The highlight was a 51-yard bomb he caught on a trick play with Mohamed Sanu lined up in the Falcons' "12-guage" formation. You can watch it here:
"We just keep building," Jones said of the offense. "You never know whose game it's going to be, that's why I'm not a stats guy. I can't get down and not go out there and play for my brothers. That's being selfish and then you're not allowing your brothers to go out there and play their best ball. If those other guys on the field, the other 10 guys on the field with me, and I was doing my thing today and they decided 'OK, I'm not going to do something today; I'm not getting the ball; I'm not doing this, I'm not doing that,' I don't have the day I had today, without them.
"At the end of the day, I want to win," Jones said. "That's my main goal. When I line up, I want to win."
For more on Jones's record-setting day, click here.
Falcons prove stingy (again) on third down, red zone
For the third game in a row, the Falcons defense was solid on third down and in the red zone. The Buccaneers converted just 4-of-11 third downs (36 percent) and were just 2-of-5 (40 percent) in the red zone.
In the 34-31 win over Seattle last Monday night, the Seahawks were 5-of-12 (42 percent) on third down and just 2-of-6 (33 percent) in the red zone. And in the 27-7 win over the Cowboys in Week 10, Dallas was just 5-of-11 (45 percent), 0-for-1 on fourth down and 1-of-2 in the red zone.
With no Freeman in lineup, Coleman carries the load
The Falcons have been without running back Devonta Freeman since he suffered a concussion on the first series against the Cowboys back in Week 10. With no Freeman in the lineup again against the visiting Buccaneers, Tevin Coleman carried the bulk of the load and had a solid day.
Coleman finished with 97 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries – his longest run was a 20-yard carry in the first quarter. Atlanta finished with 148 total yards rushing on 28 runs. One of those runs was by Julio Jones, which went for 15 yards.
"We can't wait to get Free [Devonta Freeman] back," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "As far as being in the concussion protocol for him, we'll just have to wait and see, but it's what we expect from our guys. It's a very competitive group both at running back and receiver. Just the style and the attitude. They want it, and they want to go, but if you watch behind-the-scenes, the way they support each other is pretty strong too. We're especially pleased for Tevin [Coleman] today. He became a new dad very recently, two times in the same day, so we're really pumped for him for today and for that moment."
Also worth noting, the Falcons tallied 516 yards of total offense, averaging 8.1 yards per play.
Falcons take a couple of hits in the secondary
The Falcons lost a couple of defensive backs during the game. Cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Brian Poole were ruled out to return. Trufant suffered a concussion while Poole injured his lower back. C.J. Goodwin filled in for Trufant at cornerback and when the Falcons went to their nickel package, Ricardo Allen played that spot.
What the win means for the Falcons
The Falcons improve to 7-4 and pick up their first NFC South win to go to 1-1 on the season. They are now 6-1 in NFC play, which will be important as the NFC playoff picture comes into focus in the coming weeks.
"We knew it was going to be a tough division game, but clearly one of our best team wins when you've got to lean on each other as hard as we did," Quinn said.
The Falcons still trail in the Carolina Panthers, who beat the Jets on Sunday and improved to 8-3 and 2-1 in NFC South play. While the Panthers currently own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Falcons, it's important to note that Atlanta has wins over the Seahawks, Packers, Lions and Cowboys.
Here is a complete look at the NFC playoff picture (and it will be updated throughout the day).
What's next for the Falcons
The Falcons will host the Vikings (9-2) on Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. A 1 p.m. ET kickoff is scheduled. (The game could be flexed, however). It's a critical game for both teams, who are competing for positioning in the NFC playoff race.
Recap Sunday's game with the in-game blog
We provided live updates and analysis during Sunday's win over the Buccaneers, as well as highlights, stats and additional insights. You can recap all the action below.