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Matchup to Watch: WR Jones vs. CB Butler

This has been a special season for the brotherhood in Atlanta. Take a look back at 51 moments leading up to Super Bowl LI.

In 2012, Malcolm Butler tweeted that he'd like a shot at covering Julio Jones. This Sunday, he'll have the opportunity to do just that -- and on football's biggest stage, no less.

"Dreams do come true, man," the Patriots cornerback told NESN Thursday when asked about his tweet. "That's not even trash talk or being cocky or anything. That's just, I had a vision, and I hope young guys in college and everybody around the world can use that as an example. If you have a vision and you work hard, you can accomplish things."

As New England's No. 1 CB, Butler figures to spend a lot of time matched up against No. 11 this weekend. The cornerback out of West Alabama is wrapping up the best season of his three-year NFL career: According to Pro Football Focus, he's allowed just 57 catches on 102 targets for 778 yards and four touchdowns in 18 games. He's also broken up 17 passes, snagged four interceptions and forced one fumble.

Butler is known for making the game-winning pick against the Seahawks in SBXLIX, just before head coach Dan Quinn left Pete Carroll's staff for Atlanta. At that point Butler was an undrafted rookie with a little-known pedigree. Since then, he's progressed substantially, making the Pro Bowl in 2015 and becoming a second-team All-Pro this year.

"He's just continued to improve. He's continued to get better," Bill Belichick said. "He hasn't let that one play define him. When people talk about Malcolm Butler, the first thing they might say is that interception, but after that, they're going to say he's consistently gotten better.

"He's an All-Pro and he's a Pro Bowl player. It's exciting to see that he hasn't gotten stagnant in his career. He's continued to want more. He's continued to want to get better. The sky is really the limit for him, and I'm excited to see where he continues to grow to be as a player."

Butler -- who is "great at jumping routes," Jones said -- played some of his best football in the AFC Championship Game, holding Antonio Brown to two catches on four targets for 24 yards when the two went head-to-head. It was one of one Butler's best outings of the season, but containing Jones will be a far different task.

At 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, Butler is well-built for a clash with Brown, who stands at 5-foot-10 and 181 pounds. Jones, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound athletic freak, is far more physically imposing than Pittsburgh's star wideout.

And he blends that strength with blazing speed. Of all the wideouts who gained at least 400 receiving yards in 2016, only eight posted a better 40-yard dash time at the combine than Jones' 4.34-second mark. All of them are smaller than him -- and, according to, on average they were nearly five inches shorter than Jones.

His hands aren't bad, either. Per offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Jones could "catch a snowflake in a wind tunnel."

All these traits helped the University of Alabama alum corral 83 passes in the regular season for 1,409 receiving yards -- the second-most in the NFL, even though he missed two games -- and six touchdowns. Jones has only raised his game in the playoffs: Against Seattle and Green Bay, he notched 15 receptions for 247 yards and three scores.

"What scares you so much about Jones is that there's really no way to prepare for him," said Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians. "He's about four inches taller and 25 pounds heavier than the average guy trying to cover him, and with all due respect for our guys and all the other guys who line up against him, he's just faster than any of them. In terms of size and strength, he's practically a tight end with sprinter's speed."

Jones doesn't believe anyone in the NFL can cover him one-on-one, and the Patriots will almost certainly double-team him at some point in SBLI: New England safety Devin McCourty told Deion Sanders "we're going to have to try to commit everybody to him. We can't just let him stand out there one-on-one all game and just two what he does."

Recent history suggests Atlanta's offense will not suffer if the Pats zero in on their No. 1 receiver. In 2016, the Falcons are 2-0 without Jones' services and 3-0 when he makes three or fewer catches. They averaged 36.8 points in those five games.

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