GREEN BAY, Wisc. – It’s easy to get caught up in the Falcons’ mounting losses, shoddy play or dwell on the fact that any sort of last-ditch postseason run is pretty much a pipedream now sitting at 4-9.
Those are definitely sobering thoughts for the Falcons, who dropped their fifth straight game on Sunday, a penalty-marred 14-point loss to the Packers here at Lambeau Field.
The harsh reality is that this team, once a preseason Super Bowl pick by some in the national media, is currently looking at a top-five pick in April’s NFL Draft. In other words, not a lot has gone right and the rest has gone terribly wrong.
Lost in the mess the Falcons currently find themselves in, there are some bright spots and I would certainly be remiss if I did not mention one in particular.
It’s No. 11, Julio Jones.
Against the Packers, all Jones did was become the first player in NFL history with 1,400 receiving yards in five straight seasons as he caught eight passes for 106 yards and scored two touchdowns. Jones had been tied with Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison, the only other player who had accomplished the feat in four straight seasons (1999 to 2002).
The two touchdowns scored against Green Bay also gives Jones 10 games now with two or more scores, tying him with ex-Falcon Terance Mathis with the second-most in franchise history. Andre Rison has the most with 15 games.
With a league-leading 1,429 receiving yards on the season and three games still to go, all Jones needs to do now is average just north of 147 yards per game to surpass his previous single-season best of 1,871 yards set back in 2015.
And he’ll most likely set that mark, too.
While breaking records is nothing new to Jones, it’s not what matters most to the Falcons’ five-time Pro Bowl player.
Jones made that abundantly clear earlier this season when he got off to a torrid start statistically but couldn’t find the end zone until the Falcons’ eighth game, a 38-14 win over the Redskins on Nov. 4. Jones seemed to be OK with the drought only because he was helping put his teammates in a position to score instead – and the Falcons were scoring plenty during the first eight games of the season, averaging 28.5 points per game.
“I can go in the game and never have (any) catches and I’m going to feel the same way as long as we are successful and I’m contributing to the team,” Jones said back in October. “If I’m going out there and I’m demanding two men and two guys on me, I’m doing my job for the team. Like I said, I don’t go back and forth with touchdowns, this and that, and somebody telling me how successful I am. I’m doing my job. That’s why I’m here.”
And that’s why this season has to be so hard for a player wired like Jones, especially as of late. The Falcons are 0-5 in the last 30 days, and have not scored more than 20 points in a game in that span. Whether they finish with 4-12 record or at 7-9, it’ll be their worst record since finishing 4-12 in 2013 and 6-10 in 2014. This will be the fourth time in Jones’ career that he’ll be at home watching the playoffs.
Jones is quietly putting together one of the best seasons in his career and, in the end, it’s looking more and more like it's all for naught. Sure, he’s adding to what will eventually be Hall-of-Fame worthy career stats, but it’s one more year that he won’t be playing for the ultimate prize: a Lombardi Trophy.
And if you listen to Jones, it’s all about success as a team – something Atlanta hasn’t tasted a whole lot of this season. For whatever the reason, things aren’t coming together on game day for these 2018 Falcons – and it has coach Dan Quinn scratching his head.
Jones turns 30 in February and while most receivers tend to peak around 27, the former first-round pick out of Alabama is definitely not your average NFL receiver. Terrell Owens, someone who Jones trains with during the offseason, played in the league for 15 seasons. If Jones stays healthy, there’s no reason to think he couldn’t play just as long.
The Falcons have a growing list of things to address with team – over the next three regular-season games and during the offseason.
Let’s hope they get it right, especially with a once-in-a-generation player like No. 11. That would be a shame – and a waste.
The Falcons face the Packers at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin this Sunday afternoon. Get your inside look here.