First-round bye gives Julio Jones, Falcons chance to get healthier

ATLANTA -- Julio Jones exhaled in relief as he talked about his Atlanta Falcons securing a first-round playoff bye and earning the NFC's No. 2 seed.

“We're going take this bye week and get healthy, and then we'll see how everything pans out,” Jones said.

Certainly the Falcons need a little a rest and recovery before they begin their playoff journey Saturday, Jan. 14. Jones has dealt with a toe sprain for weeks now and continues to progress. Fellow wide receiver Taylor Gabriel missed Sunday's regular-season finale, nursing a foot injury. Rookie tight end Austin Hooper continues to recover from an MCL sprain. All three players are key factors for the league's top scoring offense heading into the postseason.

“It's [important] for us to get this bye week and get guys back out there on the field,” Jones said. "Myself included. I got nicked up early on, so this week right here will do me some good.”

Defensively, NFL sack champ Vic Beasley Jr. has an MRI scheduled for Monday after feeling his left shoulder pop out during Sunday's 38-32 win over the Saints. He'll welcome the week off, provided the exam doesn't reveal any serious damage.

“Definitely time to recover and get my injury in better health,” Beasley said. “So, we're looking forward to this bye week.”

The Falcons survived key injuries throughout the season and still finished 11-5 and won the NFC South. Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant was lost to season-ending pectoral surgery, but Jalen Collins has stepped in and performed admirably in his place. The loss of productive veteran tight end Jacob Tamme was minimized as players such as Levine Toilolo, rookie Joshua Perkins and long shot D.J. Tialavea contributed touchdown receptions from the position. And the vocal leadership provided by veteran linebacker Sean Weatherspoon before going down to a season-ending Achilles tear was missed, but rookie Deion Jones started raising his voice.

Now the Falcons just have to maintain a good bill of health for the next month or so. Fans certainly cringed watching Beasley exit to the locker room Sunday. Then rookie strong safety and first-round pick Keanu Neal exited and was evaluated for a head injury after a crushing hit on Saints receiver Willie Snead.

“I felt fine,” Neal said. “I was a little dizzy, but that's part of the game. They went through safety precautions and took me in, but that's part of it. They're big on safety, particularly head injuries. And the bye is huge because it allows us to recover.”

The other injuries to monitor before the Falcons host a game in the second round are cornerback Robert Alford's knee and the leg injury to nickelback Brian Poole.

“Essentially it's like a playoff win today, getting us to the second round,” quarterback Matt Ryan said. “As far as time off, we will see what [coach] Dan [Quinn] has scheduled for us. It will be a good chance for us and the guys who need rest to get healthy.”