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Tuesday January 16th, 2018 12:28PM

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

By The Associated Press
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FLOWERY BRANCH (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."

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."

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