FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — No NFL team has ever fielded two wide receivers with at least 1,500 receiving yards in the same season.
If you ask Julio Jones, that could soon be changing.
Jones spoke this week of reaching a statistical milestone that only two other tandems – Detroit’s Herman Moore and Brett Perriman (1995) and St. Louis’ Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce (2000) – have came close to achieving.
It isn’t just the receiving talent of Jones and Atlanta Falcons teammate Roddy White that has the former thinking big as training camp unfolds. It’s also NFL officiating crews’ greater emphasis this season on flagging contact or jersey-grabbing by defensive backs five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. That could make the league even more pass-friendly than it is now.
“There ain’t no telling,” Jones said of what White and he could accomplish. “Me and Rod — 1,500, 2,000 (yards) … You never know what we can do out there.”
Just having Jones and White back out there and healthy at the same time should provide a huge lift for the NFC’s most disappointing team in 2013.
Any chance that the Falcons had of rebounding from a 1-4 start ended when Jones fractured his foot in a Week 5 loss to the New York Jets. At the time, he was leading the NFL with 41 catches for 580 yards.
Jones, though, believes he wasn’t even at his best in those five games.
“Even though everybody said I was having an outstanding year, I didn’t think I was having that good of a year,” said Jones, who is now practicing again without restrictions. “I always think I can improve.”
White’s season unfolded in almost opposite fashion as Jones’. He suffered a sprained ankle during the 2013 preseason that lingered for months. Subsequent hamstring and shoulder ailments further limited his production. But when White finally became healthy, he re-emerged as one of the NFL’s most productive wideouts with 43 catches for 502 yards and two touchdowns in Atlanta’s final five games.
The strong finish helped White land a four-year, $30 million contract extension in the offseason.
“That was a time when I wanted to show everybody I could still make plays in this league,” said the 32-year-old White, who is entering his 10th NFL season. “That was a special time for me.”
White and Jones aren’t the only players who must excel for the Falcons offense to truly become special once again. In the passing game, Atlanta needs to compensate for the retirement of future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez and keep quarterback Matt Ryan standing upright after he was sacked a career-high 44 times.
The Falcons also are hoping running back Steven Jackson can stay healthy to improve what was the NFL’s worst rushing offense at 77.6 yards per game. Jackson already is being held out of the preseason because of a sore hamstring but is expected to return for the team’s Week 1 opener against New Orleans.
Add in concerns about the secondary and pass rush on defense and the preseason Super Bowl buzz that had surrounded the Falcons in recent seasons has dissipated.
“It’s the first time I’ve had to deal with coming off the type of year we had,” said Ryan, who had never experienced a losing season since being drafted by the Falcons in 2008. “Hopefully, it’s the last time.”
Ryan’s personal statistical goal for the season is completing 70 percent of his passes, a feat accomplished by only four other quarterbacks (Drew Brees twice, Ken Anderson, Steve Young and Joe Montana). If Ryan hits that mark, White and Jones have a legitimate shot at making their own history with 1,500 receiving yards each.
“I think it’s possible, absolutely,” Ryan said. “When you look at what Roddy has done historically here, he’s always been consistent. I think everybody knows what he’s capable of doing. Julio has had three really good years when he has been healthy. Last year through five games, certainly he was on pace to do that.
“I’m lucky to have two of the best guys and the best tandem in the NFL. I think they’re both going to have big years.”
Falcons interviews were conducted Alex Marvez and co-host Gil Brandt on SiriusXM NFL Radio.