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Atlanta Falcons hope Julio Jones can catch a playoff berth

By The Sports Xchange
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Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones warms up before the Thursday night game with the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans October 15, 2015. Photo by AJ Sisco/UPI
Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones warms up before the Thursday night game with the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans October 15, 2015. Photo by AJ Sisco/UPI | License Photo

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones is within striking distance of breaking the NFL record for most catches in a season.

With two games left, Jones has an outside shot of breaking the league mark of 143 catches in a season, which was set by former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison in 2002.

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Jones has 118 catches for 1,544 yards and seven touchdowns this season.

Earlier this season, Jones had 13 catches against the Giants on Sept. 20 and followed that up the next week with 12 against Dallas. If he can repeat that feat, he will tie Harrison.

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Jones did his part to help end the Falcons' six-game losing streak with another strong performance.

He carried the offense early when the Jaguars were determined to stop the rushing attack, as the Falcons halted their six-game losing streak and will try to spoil Carolina's perfect season on Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

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Late in the Jacksonville game, when Jones was getting extra attention, rookie Justin Hardy and veteran Roddy White made some key third down grabs.

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"We have the potential to do that, spread the ball around," Jones said. "Like you saw today, we have plenty of guys who can make plays. Hardy made a couple of key third downs. Roddy made a couple of key third downs. Those were big catches in the game for us."

Jones became the franchise's career leader in receptions in a season with a 12-yard catch in the third quarter. Falcons wide receiver Roddy White held the mark of 115 catches in a season, set in 2010.

"Nothing," Jones said when asked what it meant to hold the franchise record. "It's more about trying to win and help my teammates."

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Jones did have some kind words for White, who took him under his wings when he came into the league in 2011.

"He's been like a mentor to me," Jones said. "But records are made to be broken. (Rookie Justin) Hardy or one of these young guys will probably come along and break my record."

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The Falcons will need to lean on Jones and get some football miracles around the league to make the playoffs. The Falcons have some faint playoff hopes.

Seattle has clinched a playoff berth. But if the Falcons win out and Seattle and Minnesota lose their final games, all three will finish 9-7 overall and 6-6 in the NFC.

In that scenario, Seattle will be in as the fifth seed (first wild card). The tiebreaker for the Falcons-Vikings would be the sixth one for ties between three or more clubs: Strength of schedule.

In a three-way tiebreaker, the Falcons believe they have not been eliminated. They have not been told by the NFL they were eliminated, so the Falcons think they are mathematically alive.

It's possible in the strength of schedule tiebreaker that the Falcons would have an edge on Minnesota, but they have not been told that for certain by the NFL.

The Falcons finish with home games against Carolina and New Orleans.

Seattle plays at St. Louis and at Arizona. Minnesota plays against the New York Giants and at Green Bay.

The Falcons know if they are going to handle their part of the football playoff trifecta, Jones will be a big part of things.

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"He means everything to me," quarterback Matt Ryan said. "He's a great teammate and a guy that is extremely productive week in and week out. He's had an unbelievable season and is as physically gifted as anybody in this league.

"He's as good of a wide receiver as there is, and he's an even better teammate. He's a guy that just wants to win and we're very fortunate to have him in our organization."

REPORT CARD VS. JAGUARS

PASSING OFFENSE: B. Quarterback Matt Ryan completed 22-of-35 passes for 246 yards with one touchdown and one interception. The offense also came up with a clutch 14-play drive that took six minutes, 44 seconds off the clock in the fourth quarter. Only four receivers caught passes, while Jones was targeted 13 times and running back Devonta Freeman was targeted 10. Ryan did have an interception that led to the Jaguars tying the game, 17-17, in the third quarter.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C-plus. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman ran hard, even though they weren't that productive. The Falcons were determined to run the football even against eight-man fronts. By staying with the run, they probably eliminated some of the turnovers and miscues that were popping during the losing streak. Freeman averaged a paltry 2.2 yards on 25 carries, which is normally unacceptable, but with the Falcons striving for balance, every carry was important. Coleman ran for 23 yards on four carries.

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PASSING DEFENSE: C-minus. The Jaguars didn't shy away from throwing at cornerback Desmond Trufant, who shadowed wide receiver Allen Robinson. Trufant struggled at times and had a couple of penalties. He was beaten for a 10-yard touchdown pass that tied the game 17-17. The Falcons dodged a bullet when quarterback Blake Bortles missed wide receiver Allen Hurns after he got behind the secondary for a potential game-winning touchdown. Adrian Clayborn and Philip Wheeler had sacks for the Falcons, who were able to move Bortles off his spot several other times.

RUSH DEFENSE: A. The Falcons defense held the Jaguars to 72 rushing yards and 3.6 yards per carry. That's the eighth opponent the Falcons have held to under 100 yards rushing this season. The defense also held Jacksonville without a third-down conversion (0-for-8). That's the lowest third-down percentage the defense has held an opposing team to this season.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C. The Falcons pulled out all stops and called a fake punt. It picked up the first down, but Kemal Ishmael was called for holding on the play. Shayne Graham made field goals of 33 and 46 yards. Returner Devine Hester has not provided a spark since he returned from the short-term injured reserve list. Punter Matt Bosher averaged 43.2 on five punts.

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COACHING: B minus. The Falcons stuck with their plan on offense and even ran some no-huddle with Ryan. The defense was able to get to Bortles and move him off his spot. How the team stuck together when the Jaguars stormed back from a 14-poind deficit can be attributed to good coaching.

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