Julio Jones

Eagles use goalline stand, Elliott FGs to beat Falcons

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Philadelphia’s defense staged a last-minute goal-line stand and Jake Elliott atoned for a missed extra point with three field goals as the Eagles beat the Atlanta Falcons 15-10 Saturday to move into the NFC championship game.

Despite being underdogs as the No. 1 seed, the Eagles (14-3) showed plenty of moxie in the tightest spots of the fourth quarter.

They stopped sixth-seeded Atlanta (11-7) after it got to the 9 with a first down, and then on fourth down from the 2 when Matt Ryan‘s pass sailed over Julio Jones‘ head in the end zone.

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It was the first playoff win for Philadelphia since the 2008 season, and they will host either Minnesota or New Orleans for the conference title next Sunday.

The Falcons, who so memorably blew a 28-3 second-half lead in last year’s Super Bowl, won’t get a chance to atone for that defeat.

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Falcons’ Jones ignores aches and pains to stay on the field

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) Even Julio Jones was caught off guard when someone mentioned all the various body parts he’s 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 shaking his head, Jones added, “Long season, man. Long season.”

Road to Super Bowl LII: Stream, start time, highlights and more

He’s got 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,” 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 .

After sitting out two days of practice with a sore ankle and going through a limited routine Thursday at the final full workout before the game, the star receiver 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 that the Falcons usually have an extensive walk-through before each practice, and that’s a session that 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 last 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 last four months, the injury report has listed him as limited or out of practice more times than he’s fully participated.

Game day is a different story.

“If you say you’re gonna go, go. Don’t bring it up in the middle of the game,” he 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’s learned to block out his various injuries.

“It’s gonna 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.

He’s usually even better in the playoffs.

Last week, he had nine catches for 94 yards and a touchdown with just under 6 minutes remaining that finished off a 26-13 upset of the Los Angeles Rams in the wild-card round.

“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.

Not that he had any doubt about the outcome. Jones didn’t attend the game, even though it was held at the Falcons’ home stadium, and insisted that 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 Alabama 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.”

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry

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Eagles had right formula for success vs Falcons last season

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Atlanta’s high-flying offense had its way with every defense it faced in 2016 on the way to the Super Bowl except Jim Schwartz’s unit.

The Philadelphia Eagles shut down the Falcons in a 24-15 victory in Week 10 last season, holding them to a season low in points, first downs (11) and yards (303).

They’ll try to do it again with a berth in the NFC championship game at stake.

When the Falcons (11-6) visit the Eagles (13-3) in a divisional playoff game on Saturday, Schwartz will turn to the blueprint he used last season. But he knows that doesn’t guarantee success again.

“They are a little bit different than last year,” Schwartz said. “It’s a new season. Playoff games stand on their own.”

Julio Jones had 10 catches for 135 yards, but didn’t score a touchdown against the Eagles in that game. Matt Ryan completed only eight passes to other receivers for 132 yards, including a 76-yard TD to Taylor Gabriel.

Schwartz doesn’t care about allowing Jones to rack up fantasy points. Keeping him out of the end zone is more important.

“If Julio Jones has 350 yards receiving and we win the game, that’s what it took to win the game,” Schwartz said.

“If he has 10 yards receiving for the game-winning touchdown, then that wasn’t enough.

“So I think you have to look at it that way. How do you stop their offense, how do you minimize their scoring and not just concentrate on one player because they do have other players that are threats. It’s not just a one-man team.”

The Eagles blitzed Ryan more than usual and the 2016 NFL MVP had his worst game of the season. He was sacked twice, threw one interception, completed only 55 percent of his passes and had a 78.7 passer rating.

Schwartz has more talent on his defense now, including more depth on the defensive line and a revamped secondary.

The Eagles often generate a strong rush without relying on the blitz and they have cornerbacks who can handle receivers one-on-one if Schwartz wants to be aggressive.

“They are a very good offensive protection team as far as picking up blitzes,” Schwartz said.

“Blitz is not a whole lot different than pass rush. You can’t expect to have guys free. If you’re expecting to get guys free, you’re in the wrong business because the only way you can really get a guy free is to bring more than they can block and there’s some risk inherent to that.

“But blitz is really all about guys winning one-on-ones, and when you do that, then your blitz game is going to be effective and I’m not just talking about one-on-ones in pass rush, but I’m talking about one-on-ones in coverage, too. Both of those go hand in hand.”

Under first-year offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who replaced Kyle Shanahan after he left to coach San Francisco, the Falcons had a big drop-off in production. They went from No. 1 in scoring at 33.8 points per game to 15th at 22.1. They fell from second in yards to eighth.

But they still have Ryan, Jones, Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Mohamed Sanu and Austin Hooper.

“They look sharp and they’re playing at a high level,” defensive end Chris Long said. “We’ll have to bring our `A’ game.”

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Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AP-RobMaaddi