When Julio Jones explained that he and fellow Falcons WR Roddy White do not care which one of them has more catches, he said it with conviction. He reiterated that no-big-deal notion about statistics throughout an interview last week.
“My biggest thing is no hating,” Jones said.
If there is the occasional tense moment between the two players that combined for more yards (2,549) than any other WR tandem in the league this season, those times have not prevented Jones and White from establishing a tight-knit friendship that both players have come to hold dear since Jones entered the league in 2011.
They do interviews together, including an exclusive conversation with PFW as they prepared for their divisional-round playoff game. They even vacation together in the offseason.
“Wherever you think blue water is, that’s where we’ll be at,” White said of their travels. “We like blue-water beaches.”
White, an eighth-year veteran, has familiarized himself with the beaches in Hawaii, making the Pro Bowl in each of the past four seasons. His streak was snapped this season, though, as he was left off the NFC roster for the first time since the 2007 season. Jones made 13 fewer catches (92-79), gained 153 fewer yards (1,351-1,198) and scored three more touchdowns (10-7) than White, but he may be starting a Pro Bowl streak of his own. He was named to the NFC squad when rosters were unveiled on Dec. 26.
So, when Jones is asked if he will be bringing his good friend along with him to the Pro Bowl, White interjects — if the Falcons win the NFC championship game, no Falcons players will be at the Pro Bowl, which will be played in Honolulu the week before the Super Bowl. Instead, they will be in the Super Bowl host city, New Orleans, getting ready to play in the biggest game of their lives.
“We aren’t going to Hawaii,” White said. “We’re going to New Orleans. … After we win the Super Bowl, we’ll go out there to Hawaii and we’ll chill on the beach.
“You can come out there and have a Mai Tai with us.”
When White first heard the news that he did not make the Pro Bowl but the player he had mentored for the past two years did get the nod, he said he picked up his phone and texted Jones congratulations.
“He made a lot of plays this year and it was well deserved,” White said.
However, he did take issue with some of the other choices Pro Bowl voters made at wide receiver.
“I think some other guys on that team shouldn’t have made it,” White said, not naming names.
While there is still some debate, apparently even within Falcons headquarters, about which of the two receivers is the better player — Falcons WRs coach Terry Robiskie told PFW last week that White is still the team’s best receiver — there is no doubt that White embraces his role as the team mouthpiece. The 31-year-old can be brash, but he admits it when one of his bold predictions turns out to be wrong.
“At the beginning of the season, I told everybody that we would both make the Pro Bowl,” White said. “I fell on the short end of the stick, so next year I have to step my game up and help myself get there.”
A cooler Hot Rod
Hearing White talk about the need for him to kick his game up another notch is a bit jarring — in the final game of the regular season, he surpassed the 90-catch mark, making him just the fifth player in league history to make 90 or more catches and gain 1,200 or more yards in three consecutive seasons. That might be another side effect of playing alongside Jones, though. Those that know White well say he reacted as if the stakes had been raised when Jones arrived as a much hyped rookie out of Alabama last season. White was coming off what still stands as the most productive season of his career — a 115-catch, 1,389-yard, 10-TD performance in 2010 — when Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff made a bold move, trading up 21 spots in the first round of the draft to select Jones with the sixth overall pick.
The trade was made to give QB Matt Ryan another elite target and make the offense more explosive — not to have Jones replace White, at least not anytime soon — but Robiskie, who is in his fourth decade as an NFL assistant, has watched White and Jones as closely as anyone. He sensed a change in White when Jones showed up.
“I think (White) started pressing a little bit last year and trying to do some things to show that this is still my team and I’m still the man,” Robiskie said. “I think that had a lot to do with the number of balls he dropped last year.”
White led the league with 15 drops in 2011. This season, Jones led the Falcons in drops, and he had only eight.
“I think Rod’s mindset more this year was ‘I don’t need to catch 120 balls. Give Julio 25 or 30 of those balls and let’s see what he can do with it,’ ” Robiskie said. “I think (this season) he more or less settled down and accepted the fact that Julio was here to help and not hurt.”
To Robiskie, the transition Jones made to playing alongside a perennial Pro Bowler has been smooth. He was used to being the No. 1 option coming from Alabama, but he didn’t arrive, even after the Falcons gave up a package of picks to trade up and draft him, with a sense of entitlement.
“From the day he got here, from the day he walked on campus, he understood he was a piece of the puzzle,” Robiskie said. “He wasn’t the puzzle.
“We drafted him thinking he’ll be No. 1, and one day he will be, but for now, I tell him sometimes ‘I just need you to be in the background and play the trumpet or the flute. I don’t need you to be the lead singer. We don’t need that.’ ”
Robiskie said what he does need from Jones is a bit more of the desire to dominate that he sees in White.
“That desire to go out and beat and kick the crap out of (an opponent) and dominate him, to embarrass him and treat him like a little child — Roddy was born with it,” Robskie said. “He’s got it.
“Julio still wants to be the first one in line to go open the door for the lady when she’s getting out of her car. You know what I mean? Julio is the kind of guy that we could be in a meeting and we see an old lady crossing the street, he wants to get up, run out of the meeting and go help her across the street. … We don’t mind him being a gentleman, but Sunday at one o’clock, we just don’t have time to help that old lady across the street.”
He said he thinks Julio has that killer instinct inside him. It just needs to be brought out.
“I’ve just got to get him to bring it to the ballpark on Sunday at one o’clock,” Robiskie reiterated.
Of course, it’s not just the Roddy and Julio show in Atlanta. The Falcons have a future Hall of Famer at tight end in Tony Gonzalez, who was named to his 13th Pro Bowl last month.
That trio was potent last season, but the passing offense improved from eighth to sixth in the league in its first season using coordinator Dirk Koetter’s scheme.
“Having Tony in the middle has helped us both out because for half of the game they’re trying to double Tony or they’re trying to shoot coverage to Ju (short for Julio),” White said. “Once one of us gets going, it’s just so hard for defensive coordinators to cover us as a whole squad.”
Jones and White are quick to praise Gonzalez and the wide receivers below them on the depth chart, especially Harry Douglas, who they say is the funniest receiver on the team — most likely edging out White — and one who does not get nearly enough credit for his contributions to the offense.
But is there any doubt in their minds that they make up the league’s best WR tandem?
“Are you kidding me?” White said. “Yeah, I think we’re the best. The things that Julio brings to the game, there’s maybe one or two people in the league that can kind of do what he can do just going out there being physical, being big, being fast. … I think without a doubt we are (the best). Numbers don’t lie. We probably have the best numbers in the league between any other two wide receivers.”
They didn’t combine for as many catches as Denver’s Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker did, and Thomas and Decker combined for only 51 fewer yards than Atlanta’s duo. There are receiving tandems with more TDs than Jones and White.
Maybe numbers do matter, after all, but size, speed and talent is what has always separated White and Jones from others.
Does Jones agree with White’s take?
“I feel the same way,” Jones said. “Roddy said enough.
“We just let our numbers do the talking.”
Well, Jones will. His more outspoken teammate — his brother, as Jones called White — is a little more willing to go on record with bold proclamations, but both of them will keep working to back up the talk when it’s time to play.
“You’re not going to go out there and let your brother down,” Jones said. “You’re going to do everything you can to go out there and compete and do your best. … You’re getting tired, but you can’t think about yourself.
“You have your brother on the other side.”