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Early Bird Report: Julio Jones among best Hail Mary targets in NFL

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Top five Hail Mary targets

The NFL world was in awe of Arizona's late-game win due to a jaw-dropping Hail Mary touchdown between Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins. It was a great play between one player firmly established as one of the best receivers in the league and a second-year quarterback quickly ascending to the ranks of the elite.

In light of the Hail Mary, former NFL quarterback and current analyst David Carr ranked his top five targets for such a situation. One of the most physically gifted receivers to ever grace the league, Julio Jones's spot at No. 4 on this list shouldn't come as a surprise. In fact, an argument could be made for him landing much higher.

"Anyone who can rip the ball away from a defender like Jones needs to be on my list, especially when you consider how many bodies are around the ball on most Hail Mary attempts. Jones knows how to box out defenders and make a play on the ball. His size, competitiveness and God-given ability make him one of the most physical receivers the NFL has ever seen."

How Dirk Koetter spent his bye week

For the second year in a row, the Falcons' bye week comes before their first matchup against the New Orleans Saints. In 2019, that resulted in an upset that shocked the football world. A win on Sunday would again likely be a shock, but the Falcons are putting in the work to duplicate that feat. As offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter audited his unit during the bye week, efficiency was the aspect of play he wanted to increase.

"You always come back to the same stuff that you already knew you needed to work on," Koetter said. "The main one is we would like to be efficient across the board, but mainly that applies to the red zone. We have to have a higher touchdown percentage in the red zone. You also find out you're doing a lot of things well."

Koetter shared his thoughts on the Saints and how talented they are on both sides of the ball, which Jason Butt detailed in greater length for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

NFL power rankings – What would teams take back

Most Falcons fans have probably avoided the national power rankings since the team's 0-5 start, but Atlanta is s l o w l y starting to creep back up the lists. Coming off their bye week, the Falcons held steady at No. 24 in ESPN's weekly power ranking.

This week's edition comes with a question of what moment or game would each time like to take back from this season. That question for the Falcons is fairly easy to answer, as ESPN’s David Newton did.

"Ever wonder where the Falcons might be today had one of three players fallen on an onside kick in Week 2? It was a comedy of errors and allowed Dallas to complete a comeback from 15 points down in the final five minutes," Newton writes. "It set the tone for head coach Dan Quinn to be fired after a Week 5 loss to the Panthers as well as perhaps for other fourth-quarter collapses that ensued. Not since 1933, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, had a team that scored 39 points and had no turnovers lost. If Atlanta could have that moment back and started the season 1-1, there's no telling where it might be in the NFC playoff picture."

Report: Brees has multiple rib fractures

According to a tweet by ESPN's Ed Warder, Saints quarterback Drew Brees has multiple rib fractures on both sides of his body as well as a collapsed lung. Those injuries put Brees's status for Sunday's game in serious doubt, and there appears to be at least a chance that the Saints shut down their future Hall of Fame quarterback for the rest of the season before the playoffs.

Raheem Morris explained Monday that the Falcons would be preparing to face both Saints quarterbacks and there's no guarantee one would receive substantially more playing time than the other.

"They're pretty fortunate with their quarterback situation," Morris said. "Then, obviously, you know Sean Payton and Pete Carmichael, who they are and what they are and how they go about their business, they will plan diligently enough to get those guys ready to play against us, and we have to prepare for both. There's no doubt about that."

Winston replaces Brees after rib injury

Fresh off their bye week, the Falcons will begin preparations for the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. It's the beginning of the toughest stretch of Atlanta's schedule, which also includes games against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs and Las Vegas Raiders.

While there are many questions the Falcons will need to answer in their final seven games, there's a major question for New Orleans this week. Starting quarterback and future Hall of Famer Drew Brees was unable to finish the Saints' 27-13 victory against the San Francisco 49ers after sustaining a rib injury.

According to ESPN’s Mike Triplett, coach Sean Payton said Brees will undergo an MRI and X-rays to reveal the full extent of his rib injury. The Saints signed former Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston this offseason, and it was he who filled in for Brees in the second half.

"Winston completed 6 of 10 passes for 63 yards with no touchdowns and no turnovers," Triplett writes. "Fellow backup Taysom Hill also played one series at QB, running the ball four times for 36 yards with a lost fumble. The Saints' defense and special teams did most of the heavy lifting, with defensive backs Malcolm Jenkins and Patrick Robinson each intercepting passes and undrafted rookie receiver Marquez Callaway recovering two fumbled punt returns.

"The Saints have not specified who would replace Brees if he can't start next Sunday's home date with the Atlanta Falcons -- though Winston would appear to be the leading candidate based on his role with the team and the way the Saints used Teddy Bridgewater ahead of Hill in a similar situation last year."

Gurley still proving he can be featured back

Perhaps not the game-changing force he was at the start of his career, Todd Gurley has been everything the Falcons could have wanted when they signed him to a one-year deal this offseason. A steady and reliable presence in the backfield, Gurley ranked fifth in the NFL with 584 rushing yards and second in the NFL with nine touchdowns through the Falcons' first nine games. Gurley's well-rounded skill set is something the Falcons have appreciated, a feeling that ESPN’s Michael DiRocco wrote about.

"The best thing he has done for us right now really is in protection," interim head coach Raheem Morris said of Gurley. "When he has a chance to go out there and protect Matt [Ryan] and keep the hits off him so Matt can make some of the throws down the field, that's really been nice to see and a really nice addition that you don't know you're necessarily getting when you get a really good runner like that."

Falcons hope to have Ridley back after bye

Calvin Ridley was unable to suit up in the Falcons' 34-27 win against the Denver Broncos due to a foot injury, but he may be in better shape coming off the bye week. According to D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Falcons are hopeful that Ridley’s mid-foot sprain had time to heal during the bye. In his third season, Ridley leads the Falcons with 43 catches for 657 yards and six touchdowns.

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