Atlanta's Julio Jones finds way to play despite aches and pains

Atlanta's Julio Jones finds way to play despite aches and pains

January 12th, 2018 by Associated Press in Sports - Professional

"He has a real process to do that," coach Dan Quinn said. "We're fortunate that he's played with injuries and kind of knows the routine of how to do it." That will be the case again for Saturday's NFC divisional playoff game against the top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)

Photo by John Bazemore

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones catches a touchdown pass past Los Angeles Rams defender John Johnson III during the fourth quarter of an NFL football wild-card playoff game Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, in Los Angeles. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones catches a...

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Even Julio Jones was caught off guard when someone mentioned all of the various body parts Atlanta's star wide receiver has had to nurse back to health this season.

Ribs. Thumb. Knee. Hip. Back. Ankle.

The ankle twice, in fact.

"Whew! All that?" he asked, sounding a bit incredulous.

Then, with a slight smile and a shake of his head, Jones added, "Long season, man, long season."

In his seventh NFL season, the former first-round draft pick out of Alabama has a routine to cope with all the aches and pains. During the week, Jones is often limited in practice or doesn't even take the field. But by the time the game rolls around, he's always ready to go.

"He has a real process to do that," third-year Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "We're fortunate that he's played with injuries and kind of knows the routine of how to do it."

That will be the case again for Saturday's divisional playoff at NFC No. 1 seed Philadelphia. After sitting out two days of practice this week with a sore ankle and going through a limited routine Thursday at the final full workout before the game, the three-time All-Pro will be in the starting lineup for the 18th consecutive time this season.

"The thing with being injured, it's really just blocking it out," Jones said. "Don't use it as an excuse."

Quinn noted the Falcons usually have an extensive walk-through before each practice, and that's a session Jones rarely misses no matter how much he's hurting. He uses the time to get familiar with the game plan, run some routes and hone his timing with quarterback Matt Ryan.

If Jones is limited during the actual practice, he focuses on plays in which he'll likely be the primary receiver.

"We try to feature him on plays that are unique for him and Matt to be at full speed," Quinn said. "When he goes, it's these full-speed, aggressive routes. So that helps him as far as the timing goes."

Jones has been on the injury report eight of the past 10 weeks, along with two other weeks early in the season. None of the injuries were serious enough to keep him from playing, but they did require plenty of tender loving care to make sure there were no setbacks. That's why, over the course of the past four months, the injury report has listed him as limited or out of practice more times than he has fully participated.

Game day is a different story.

"If you say you're going to go, go. Don't bring it up in the middle of the game," Jones said. "We know it hurts. Don't let your mind be negative. Just stay positive. If something's hurting or anything like that, I never relay it back to (the sideline). I know it hurts. You don't want to talk about it and bring that stuff up during the game. If I suit up, I'm going. I'm not saying anything about it."

A turning point in Jones' pain threshold came during his sophomore season at Alabama. He broke his left hand in a game, had surgery the next day and was cleared to play the following week. He wasn't at his best.

"I was a little timid to catch just because of the pain," Jones recalled. "It was messing with me mentally."

Since then, he has learned to block out his various injuries.

"It's going to hurt," Jones said. "But I'm out here. I made the decision to be out here. I don't care about it hurting."

Jones' production dipped this season, part of a wider drop-off under first-year offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, and there have been a few more drops than previous seasons — most notably, what should have been an easy 39-yard touchdown catch in a November loss at Carolina.

But overall, it's been another huge season for Jones. He had 88 catches for 1,444 yards — an average of 90.3 per game — and earned second-team honors on The Associated Press All-Pro team after being a first-team selection the previous two years.

He's usually even better in the playoffs. In last Saturday's 23-16 upset of the Rams in Los Angeles, he had nine catches for 94 yards, and his 8-yard touchdown reception with just less than six minutes to play finished off the wild-card victory.

"It's win or go home," Jones said. "I'm not a numbers guy. Whatever it takes to get the win."

Jones also got to do a bit of gloating this week after his alma mater won another national championship with a 26-23 overtime victory over Georgia at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of the Falcons.

Not that he had any doubt about the outcome. Jones didn't attend the game and insisted he went to bed before halftime.

"I was out," he said. "I didn't learn (the score) until the next morning. I was like, 'Oh, that was a good game.'"

Someone noticed he wasn't wearing any Crimson Tide gear. No need to rub it in, he quipped.

"When you're accustomed to things," Jones said, trying to hold back a smile, "you don't brag."