Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) makes a one-handed catch behind New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie (31) late in the second half of Monday’s game at the Georgia Dome. (Staff Photo: Jason Braverman)
Those who thought that things couldn’t get any worse for the disappointing Atlanta Falcons were wrong.
Very, very wrong, in fact.
A day after a last-second, 30-28 loss to the New York Jets dropped the Falcons to 1-4, the team confirmed that leading receiver Julio Jones could be lost for much or all of the rest of the season.
Jones injured a foot in Monday night’s game at the Georgia Dome and the first diagnosis was “not encouraging” according to Falcons coach Mike Smith.
Smith said Tuesday that labeling Jones done for the season was “premature” as the Falcons await a second opinion. The fourth-year wide receiver from Alabama will see a specialist in Charlotte today.
Jones leads the NFL with 41 catches and his 580 yards ranks second. He caught eight passes for 99 yards in the loss to the Jets, including a one-handed 46-yard grab in the fourth quarter.
Jones had been seen limping before that catch. He apparently suffered the injury earlier in the game and played through it.
The Falcons, ravaged by injuries all season, lost fellow wide receiver Roddy White to a hamstring injury and running back Jason Snelling to a concussion during the game.
Atlanta doesn’t play this weekend, but the bye week certainly won’t cure all the team’s ills, and losing Jones could be the final blow to any chance of a playoff run.
It is hard to believe that the Falcons came up just a few yards short of a trip to the Super Bowl only a season ago. Nine months later, the team has one more loss than all last regular season.
“What are we going to do? Sit here and feel sorry for ourselves,” Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez said after the game and before the news on Jones. “I’m not going to throw my hands up and say the season’s over.”
Gonzalez, who caught 10 passes against the Jets, decided not to retire so he would have one more chance at the Super Bowl.
“We still have a lot of football to play,” he said. “I’m going to believe, and I expect my teammates to believe, that we can turn this thing around.”
But the Falcons’ defense, also hit hard by injuries, has allowed at least 26 points in every game this season and now the offense has lost one of the NFL’s biggest threats.
The loss to the Jets was likely a backbreaker even before the Jones injury news.
After the Falcons had taken the lead with just under two minutes remaining on Matt Ryan’s second fourth-quarter touchdown pass, Nick Folk kicked a 43-yard field goal as time expired to hand Atlanta its third straight loss.
“You get what you earn in this league,” Ryan said.
The Falcons had a punt blocked, failed to cash in a golden scoring opportunity at the end of the first half and made quarterback Geno Smith look nothing like the turnover-prone rookie he had been in the Jets’ first two road games.
The rookie from West Virginia was 8-for-9 for 134 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, had another TD pass early in the fourth quarter and completed all four of his passes on the 55-yard drive to set up the winning field goal.
“We just didn’t do a good enough job to finish the game,” Falcons safety William Moore said.
Atlanta looked woeful in the first half, no more so in the closing seconds. A pass interference call on fourth down gave the Falcons, again with Steven Jackson, a second chance to score from less than a yard out and Jacquizz Rodgers was stopped short.
The Jets (3-2) were in a giving mood again, committing a fourth-down pass interference prior to Ryan’s 3-yard TD pass to rookie tight end Levine Toilolo with 1:54 to play. The Falcons defense, though, let Smith lead the Jets down the field for the winning field goal.
Ryan, whose reputation as “Matty Ice” is starting to melt, was 36 of 45 for 319 yards, but had a fumble while being sacked that led to a Jets field goal near the end of the third quarter.
Smith, meanwhile, avoided a turnover while going 16 of 20 for 199 yards and a quarterback rating of 147.7 to Ryan’s 111.0.
The Falcons maligned pass rush did register four sacks — two by Osi Umenyiora. But even that wasn’t enough.
“Obviously we know what’s happened. We know what’s gone on the last couple of weeks,” Ryan said of the losing streak. “There’s nothing we can do about it at this point. I think it is how you respond to that. I know one thing to do and that’s to keep working hard.”