It was among the most controversial plays of 2016.
On 4th and 10, down two points with 1:39 left in regulation of the Falcons' Week 6 contest in Seattle, Matt Ryan fired a deep ball to Julio Jones that, if caught, would have put Atlanta within Matt Bryant's field goal range. But Jones didn't make the catch: His opponent, Richard Sherman, made contact with Jones and committed what many believed to be pass interference. Yet no official tossed a yellow flag on the field. The Seahawks then took over on downs and ran out the clock, escaping with a narrow victory.
That defeat, of course, left a sour taste in the Falcons' mouths. They'll have a chance to exact revenge on Saturday in the Divisional Round of the NFC Playoffs. And while Jones doesn't seek individual attention, the battle between him and Sherman figures to be a focal point throughout the contest.
"I think it's awesome," head coach Dan Quinn said about the Jones-Sherman matchup. "When you see two really skilled, really high competitors battling for it, it's totally the essence of our game. That's just one of the cool matchups that we'll all get to see this weekend.
"As a coach, we look forward to those just as much as the players do. They like proving (themselves), and as coaches, we love seeing those matchups. That's our jobs to try to help create those and find those and (identify) who gives you the best chance to win in certain spots. We'll anticipate that one happening a bunch."
Sherman has been characteristically stout in coverage this year and rightfully earned his fourth-straight Pro Bowl invitation. According to Pro Football Focus, he surrendered only 39 catches on 77 targets for 585 yards and two touchdowns during the regular season. The Stanford product also notched seven pass breakups and four interceptions.
Jones shined, too, notching six touchdowns and finishing second in the NFL in receiving yards (1,409) despite missing two games. He also finished second in yards per catch (16.98), trailing only DeSean Jackson (minimum 50 receptions).
"I know the way he comes to play, and I do that the same – week in and week out," Jones said about him and Sherman. "So, it's just going to be fun, just to match up, going against each other and just competing for four quarters."
Sherman doesn't typically follow receivers around the field, but, according to the Seattle Times’ Bob Condotta, he shadowed Jones in Week 6 "as much as he has in any receiver this season."
Per ESPN, Sherman was on Jones for 30 of 46 pass plays that day, and on those snaps, Jones caught three of five passes for 40 yards. He tallied six receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown vs. zone coverage or another Seahawk.
Because Jones was so successful against players not named Sherman, Seattle may opt to break with its normal blueprint and ensure the two face off a lot on Saturday. Naturally, we'll have to wait to find out.
"It's tempting, but we're not too sure," defensive coordinator Kris Richard said. "We want to make sure we stay locked in. Obviously it's still a great matchup, there's no doubt about it, but we want to just go out there and do what we're accustomed to doing."