Let’s get our Julio Jones and Alex Mack injury updates out of the way for the week.
Both the receiver and center will rest this week, coach Dan Quinn told WCGZ-FM in Atlanta on Wednesday.
“We’re going to rest two players this week, that’s Alex Mack and Julio, in preparation for them when we get down to Houston so they’re able to participate in practices,” Quinn said, via ESPN’s Vaughn McClure. “That’s the goal that we set out for them, and that’s the game plan. They’ll be able to play. But past those two, we’re healthy getting into our preparation on the field today.”
Jones is nursing a toe injury suffered in early December. Mack hurt his ankle in the NFC Championship Game but returned to the contest.
Julio Jones finished with nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns. He was about a split second away from a third, but was collapsed on by a pair of Packers defensive backs late in the fourth quarter. For a player with a nagging injury, his performance was nothing short of fantastic. Green Bay bracketed him in the typical dominant receiver coverage, with a press defender or nearby man-up cornerback and a safety lurking over the top. Jones was grabbed, shoved and, in one instance, flipped on his head during the course of the play but never slowed down. He scored a 73-yard touchdown after his defender was flagged for defensive holding and popped Damarious Randall with a beastly stiff arm en route to the end zone. It was one of the best individual plays in recent postseason history and, believe it or not, it had competition for Jones’ best moment of the afternoon. His toe-dragging five-yard touchdown was also nothing to scoff at.
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Kyle Shanahan’s price just went up in San Francisco. The Falcons offensive coordinator, who is expected to take over as the head coach of the 49ers following Atlanta’s run, choreographed a brilliant opening drive that resulted in the team’s eighth straight opening-drive touchdown. Think about that for a second. Over the last two months, in each game they’ve played, Atlanta has been able to bank on a lead or a tie score barring the defensive giving up some points. In a playoff atmosphere like we saw on Sunday, it allowed Atlanta to start fast and completely bury the overwhelmed Packers.
But his impact on this team transcends the schematic sharpshooting he’s able to do from the booth. As NFL Network’s Michael Silver brought to light in a recent piece, his relationship with Matt Ryan has achieved an unconscious level. Ryan was unstoppable on third downs during Atlanta’s first two drives, with Shanahan dialing up plays that created man coverage right at the down marker on nearly every conversion. If that’s not the actions of a quarterback’s best friend, I don’t know what is.
Packers fans may be quick to blame fullback Aaron Ripkowski, whose fumble with 11:11 to go in the second quarter on the Atlanta 23 shifted the game from still competitive to a full-fledged blowout. However, the signs of a Falcons beat down were available early and often on Sunday. Ripkowski had nothing to do with a defense which forced just one punt over the first three and a half quarters. He didn’t control fate, which also allowed Atlanta to recover two of their own fumbles. He didn’t control the injury bug, which forced Packers defensive lineman Letroy Guion into the game to play guard. The rest of his skill position players struggled to keep Rodgers in rhythm with untimely drops. Unofficially, I counted six. They were headed into a buzzsaw one way or another. Much like the super-charged Panthers offense from a year ago, its mystique can do strange things to an opponent.
Freeney said after the Super Bowl loss, he was unsure about whether he would continue his playing career. Time apparently healed any wounds from the championship loss and he’s ready to get back to the grind.
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The king of the spin move, Freeney played 416 snaps in 15 regular season games in 2016 as a rotational. He compiled just three sacks — he also had a QB takedown in Super Bowl LI — but the whirling dervish supplied plenty of pressure. Despite his age, Pro Football Focus still rated Freeney their 25th ranked edge pass rusher this season.
Freeney will be a free agent when the new league year opens on March 9. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he returned to pass rush-needy Falcons on a low-wage deal. Expect the veteran to narrow his list of potential suitors to those with a fighting chance to make another Super Bowl run.