FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Falcons All-Pro receiver Julio Jones missed his second day of practice Thursday with a sprained left toe.
He said it’s no big deal. Jones is confident he will be ready Sunday when Atlanta faces Green Bay in the NFC championship game.
In the fourth quarter of last week’s win over Seattle, Jones left in the fourth quarter and didn’t return, but he wasn’t concerned after doctors examined him a few minutes later.
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”I got a little snag, and I was like, `Let’s go check it out,”’ he said. ”But it’s fine. I’ll be ready to go.”
Jones was initially injured Dec. 4 in a home loss to Kansas City. He missed Weeks 14 and 15 with a similar injury, but has averaged 74 yards and scored two touchdowns in three games since.
An elite receiver since the Falcons traded up to pick him sixth overall in 2011, Jones keeps getting better. In his first All-Pro season last year, Jones had the second-best season in NFL history with 136 catches and 1,871 yards receiving. Despite missing two games this year, he ranked second with 1,409 yards and fourth in yards per catch.
Coach Dan Quinn believes Jones’ skill set is unmatched among today’s top wideouts because at 6-foot-3, 220-pounds, he changes direction and balances his body like a running back. He has breakaway speed to blow past defensive backs and catch long passes over the top of the coverage.
”Often times your concentration is on the ball as you go up to catch it,” Quinn said. ”You make the catch and you go to the ground and take care of the ball, but that’s just the play starting for him. So he can catch it and turn his body in a unique way, land on his feet and then extend the play.”
Besides getting treatment this week, Jones’ main goal has been to help the younger receivers manage the pressure of being one win shy of the Super Bowl. Justin Hardy, Taylor Gabriel and Aldrick Robinson weren’t in the league four years ago when the Falcons last made the playoffs and advanced to the NFC title game, only to come up 10 yards short of beating San Francisco.
The other veteran receiver, Mohamed Sanu, is in his first season with Atlanta. He played in the postseason three years straight with Cincinnati, but the Bengals came up short each time in the wild-card round.
But with quarterback Matt Ryan having an MVP-caliber season and running back Devonta Freeman and center Alex Mack earning Pro Bowl invitations, Jones believes this team is better balanced. It’s a different vibe than there was in 2012.
The Falcons (12-5) have the NFL’s highest-scoring offense. Ryan has been in sync all season with coordinator Kyle Shanahan and typically completes passes to eight different receivers, giving Atlanta a favorable matchup against Green Bay (12-6) and its depleted secondary.
”We’re a complete team now,” Jones said. ”Then it was, `We’re here. We’re here.’ We really didn’t know how to handle it. All along, Q has been doing a tremendous job for us, just preparing us in the offseason. We’re a great team. You’ve got to know you’re a great team. And you know you’re going to have some ups and downs throughout the season. Just sticking together no matter what.”
Jones went through walkthroughs the last two days and hopes to be back on the field Friday, at least on a limited basis.
”For me to go today, it’s not going to help the team out as far as Sunday,” he said. ”I’ll give Matt his looks (in the walkthrough), whatever he needs out of me.”
Notes: Gabriel (foot) and DT Jonathan Babineaux (shoulder) were limited participants in practice. SS Keanu Neal (foot) was upgraded after being a full participant.
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