ATLANTA — Julio Jones did whatever he wanted against Carolina’s defense.
It didn’t matter if the Falcons’ All-Pro receiver was wide open or in tight coverage. Regardless whom the Panthers lined up against him, Jones could not be stopped.
His stats in Sunday’s 48-33 win were staggering.
Targeted 15 times by quarterback Matt Ryan, Jones caught 10 passes for had 300 yards receiving, fourth on the career single-game list since 1960 and the most since Detroit’s Calvin Johnson had a 329-yard game three years ago.
“You can’t do this by yourself,” Jones said. “You can play really well by yourself, but you can’t win and have success by yourself. It’s a team game and team effort. The way we practice and the way we love each other showed today.”
How dominant was Jones? He had 225 yards, more than any single Carolina opponent, by the end of the third quarter. He added a 75-yard TD catch late in the fourth.
Even if star cornerback Josh Norman hadn’t left Carolina, the Panthers likely would’ve struggled because they stuck to their scheme and used mostly single coverage against Jones.
The tactic surprised Jones, who last season had the second-most productive single season in NFL history and has faced plenty of double and triple teams this season.
“It did, especially against a divisional opponent to play 1-on-1 on me,” he said. “We took advantage of it today and we had some explosive plays.”
The Carolina secondary was a mess. James Bradberry missed most of the game after banging his left big toe against Jones. Bene Benwikere and Daryl Worley were outmatched. Safety help either didn’t exist or didn’t matter.
“It was hard,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “We thought we had a good plan coming in. We tried to cover him. We tried to do some different things and apparently it didn’t pan out. Credit to them.”
Falcons coach Dan Quinn and quarterback Matt Ryan each said during the week that it was only a matter of time before Jones started racking up big stats.
After getting targeted seven times for just one catch in the Week 3 win at New Orleans, Jones began Sunday’s game with just 10 catches, third-most on his team.
Against Carolina, he had six receptions for 152 yards at the seven-minute mark of the second quarter.
His dazzling, over-the-shoulder catch in front of the Atlanta bench covered 43 yards and set up a TD run by Devonta Freeman that gave the Falcons a 14-0 lead. Jones split the coverage for a 53-yard gain that set up a field goal that made it 17-7.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Jones and Ryan became the first pair of teammates in an NFL game with 300 yards receiving and 500 yards passing.
“That’s pretty cool to be a part of that,” Ryan said. “To me the best catch of the day was a third-and-3. He ran a short, little under route and left-hand side in traffic and snatched it. Didn’t even bring it to his chest. His hands are so strong.”
Jones has nine games with at least 160 yards receiving. Only Lance Alworth, with 12, and Jerry Rice, with 11, had more in their first six seasons.
“Carolina figured they were going to come out here and stop the run game and they tried to do that,” Jones said. “They left me 1-on-1 out there, and we made some explosive plays down the field.”