'He's an unbelievable mentor': How Julio Jones helps guide Falcons teammates

It's is difficult to miss the impact of the 6-foot-3, 220-pound and-he’s-also-faster-than-you Julio Jones in the Atlanta Falcons' offense.

But in Sunday’s 34-27 win over the Denver Broncos, the Falcons’ third win in four games since Dan Quinn was fired as head coach and Raheem Morris was promoted to interim coach, it was Jones’ under-the-radar work with two far less heralded receivers that was fully on display.

“He’s an unbelievable mentor -- there’s no question about it -- who is about as generous with his time, teaching people, as any player I’ve been around," Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said of Jones. “ ... He’s got incredible experience, a wealth of knowledge, understands our offense inside and outside. He’s certainly expedited the development of all those guys."

Jones finished the day with five receptions, 54 yards and a touchdown. The Broncos could have walked away from Sunday's work thinking that was a fairly good outing against the seven-time Pro Bowl selection -- especially because Jones’ only catch in the second half was his touchdown.

But it was Olamide Zaccheaus, with four receptions for 103 yards with a touchdown -- all in the Falcons’ frenetic first half -- and Brandon Powell’s first career touchdown catch (also in the first half) that powered the Falcons to a 20-3 halftime lead.

It was Zaccheaus’ first career 100-yard game, and he almost equaled his entire 2019 total -- 115 receiving yards in 2019 -- in a single afternoon.

“They did a great job," said Falcons running back Todd Gurley. “Not only that, those two touchdowns came on third down. You take those two touchdowns away and that’s a close ballgame ... Playing big and shoutout to those guys, they did their thing, did what they were supposed to do. They’ve been working hard."

Calvin Ridley missed his first game of the season due to a foot injury. He entered Sunday as the Falcons’ leader in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. So the Broncos focused much of their battered secondary's attention (missing both starting cornerbacks) on Jones.

Yet Ryan worked the depth chart. He spread his 18 completions in the first half around to eight different players with Zaccheaus’ four targets second only to Jones’ five targets in the half.

Powell’s 9-yard touchdown catch, with Broncos safety Justin Simmons in pursuit, was his only catch of the game. But it gave the Falcons a 17-3 lead just 5:42 into the second quarter.

Morris said after the game the Falcons’ ability to use Powell in the slot allowed them to move others players, including Zaccheaus, into more favorable matchups.

“I love our group," Ryan said of the receivers. "... They’re all tough, they’re involved in the run game, they’re not scared to go over the middle. They were uncertain Calvin was going to go ... For them to step up and come away with touchdowns was big for us."

“The depth of that receiver group is something I hold near and dear to my heart," Morris said. "To see [Zaccheaus] jump in there for Calvin and get an explosive [play] for us ... these guys are like my children, like my kids, man, little brothers, whatever you want to call them. They go out and make me proud every week."