FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Don’t fret, Atlanta Falcons fans.
Julio Jones will be ready to go in the NFC championship game.
Coach Dan Quinn insisted Monday that his All-Pro receiver will be in the lineup when the Falcons play for a spot in the Super Bowl against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, despite a lingering foot injury that limited Jones in the second half of a divisional-round victory.
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Jones wasn’t in the locker room for media availability following the 36-20 triumph over the Seattle Seahawks, leading to speculation that the injury might be more serious than the Falcons were letting on.
But Quinn did his best to put all that to rest.
”We’ll limit him throughout the week, and then as the week progresses, we’ll get him a little more at the end,” the coach said. ”That’s the plan from last week. That will be the plan moving forward for us. He’s excited to play.”
Jones dealt with foot issues through much of the regular season, even sitting out a couple of games. Quinn initially called the condition ”turf toe” – a potentially serious condition involving a sprain of ligaments around the big toe – but later said it was just a simple sprain.
Jones has learned to deal with the pain and the limitations he must place on himself during the week to ensure he’s ready to go on Sunday, according to Quinn.
Even though Jones was sidelined for a significant part of the second half against the Seahawks, he had his way against cornerback Richard Sherman and finished with a team-high six receptions for 67 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown. During the regular season, Jones totaled 83 catches for 1,409 yards and six touchdowns.
The Falcons are largely focused on making sure he gets enough work to stay on the same page with quarterback Matt Ryan, while not doing anything that might lead to a setback physically.
”The biggest challenge we have is making sure the practice reps are the right ones for him and Matt so they get that clear connection on the routes they need,” Quinn said.
”We’ve spent a lot of time on that to make sure as they go through the week, they both feel comfortable with the work they have.”
The prognosis was not as good for defensive end Adrian Clayborn. After working hard to come back from a knee injury that sidelined him for three games during the regular season, he is done for the season with a biceps injury sustained on Seattle’s opening possession.
”We’re totally bummed for A.C.,” Quinn said. ”For a guy who really busted his butt to come back from his knee as quickly as he did, it was for me an emotional time.”
The loss of Clayborn will lead to a larger role for backup Courtney Upshaw.
”We do have good versatility because of Upshaw,” Quinn said. ”He’s able to play defensive end and defensive tackle, so we’ll rely on him some more to play outside at defensive end. Past that, there won’t be a lot of change other than using guys in new, versatile ways.”
The Falcons (12-5) will be hosting the NFC championship game for only the second time in the franchise’s 51-year history.
Four years ago, Atlanta was the conference’s top seed but squandered a 17-point lead in the first half against the San Francisco 49ers, who held on for a 28-24 victory and a trip to the Super Bowl by stopping the Falcons’ last chance at the 10-yard line.
If top-seeded Dallas had won the NFC’s other divisional game Sunday, the Falcons would have traveled to Texas this weekend.
Instead, it was the Packers pulling out a dramatic 34-31 victory, giving Atlanta one more chance to close out the Georgia Dome, which is being replaced after this season by $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Quinn said the Falcons are thrilled to get another home game, even though Green Bay is one of the hottest teams in the league, winning eight in a row, and Rodgers dominated the Falcons in a divisional-round game at the Georgia Dome during the 2010 season.
”It’s as much fun as you can possibly imagine when you get to do it in front of your own fans,” Quinn said. ”This dome is closing and we get to be a part of the last game here. Talk about what a cool thing that is.”
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