ATLANTA — It may be a long time before Julio Jones sees another rookie cornerback assigned to him in man coverage.
Give credit to Jones for taking advantage of that mismatch Sunday and proving again that he’s one of the NFL’s top receivers.
Jones had the league’s first 300-yard receiving game in three years and Atlanta beat Carolina 48-33.
The Falcons (3-1) strengthened their early hold on the NFC South lead. Carolina (1-3) had increased reason for concern even before losing quarterback Cam Newton to a concussion in the fourth quarter.
Atlanta’s offense, already ranked first in the NFL in points and yards, continued to roll in its second straight game scoring 45 or more points and third straight with at least 35.
Matt Ryan passed for a team-record 503 yards and four touchdowns, while Jones had 12 receptions for 300 yards to set another Falcons record.
According to information provided to the Falcons from Elias, it is the first time teammates posted the 500-300 combo in a game.
Panthers rookie cornerback James Bradberry was overwhelmed in his tough assignment to cover Jones. It didn’t take long for the mismatch to become obvious.
Ryan completed passes to Jones on Atlanta’s first three plays for 22, 14 and 15 yards, showing the Falcons’ plan to take advantage of a secondary still struggling to replace Josh Norman, now with Washington.
“They put the young corner on me man to man … and Matt made some great decisions today,” Jones said.
The Panthers had success containing Atlanta’s running game, but it mattered little with Jones making catch after catch.
“We tried to cover him,” said Panthers coach Ron Rivera. “We did some things and apparently it didn’t work and he did some good things and made some really big plays. … It was hard. We thought we had a good plan coming in.”
Jones had a 75-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter.
It was a humbling loss for the Panthers, the defending NFC champions.
Rivera said it is time “to find out who we are.”
“We’ll find out about our character and whether or not we’re going to head in the right direction,” Rivera said. “That’s the biggest thing more than anything else. It’s not time to panic. We’ve been there before.”
Here are some things we learned from the Falcons’ win:
NEWTON OUT: The Panthers may have to face Tampa Bay next Monday night without Newton. Due to NFL policy on players sustaining concussions, Newton was not available for postgame interviews and Rivera had no update on the injury. Derek Anderson, who threw two interceptions and two touchdowns after replacing Newton, would be the fill-in starter.
“He did some really good things with the exception of the one he thought he was throwing away,” Rivera said.
BALANCE IS GOOD: Jones’ big day overshadowed another successful effort by Ryan to distribute his passes to many receivers. He completed passes to nine players. Jacob Tamme, Austin Hooper and Aldrick Robinson also had scoring catches.
“It’s been really good for us spreading the ball around and getting a lot of different people involved,” Ryan said.
STILL A CHANCE: Perhaps the most encouraging sign for Rivera was seeing his team rally to trail only 41-33 before Robert Alford’s 30-yard interception return for a touchdown ended the comeback hopes.
“We gave ourselves every opportunity and just didn’t get it done,” Rivera said. “I have to find a way to make sure we do going forward.”
CALVIN AND JULIO: Jones is only the fourth player in the Super Bowl era to have at least 300 yards receiving in a game. He is the first since Detroit’s Calvin Johnson had 329 yards against Dallas on Oct. 8, 2013.
INJURIES: Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis left the game with a hamstring injury early in the second half. Wide receiver Devin Funchess left the game in the fourth quarter with a toe injury. Bradberry returned after he was taken to the locker room in the first quarter with a left toe injury.
Falcons linebackers Jones and Sean Weatherspoon sustained calf injuries.