Julio Jones’ dropped touchdown pass looms large now

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The play wasn’t in the Falcons’ game plan, but when the Falcons lined up in the wildcat the first time Sunday, they saw something they liked. The Cowboys had a cover-zero look.

The Falcons decided then to have receiver Russell Gage attempt a pass if they got the same look later in the game.

They did, and he did.

The Falcons led 29-17 with 7:15 left in the third quarter when they faced a third-and-two from the Dallas 41. Gage took the direct snap and saw Julio Jones running free behind rookie cornerback Trevon Diggs.

Gage’s perfect pass hit Jones in the hands in the end zone . . . and the All-Pro receiver dropped it.

Jones blamed his hamstring injury for a play he usually makes.

“I just can’t run the way I want to run,” Jones said, via Tori McElhaney of TheAthletic.com. “We took what they gave us. They stayed low. And it was a phenomenal throw. A great throw by him, and I can definitely make that play. It is what it is. It’s football: a game of inches.”

No one knew at the time that Jones’ drop would become a turning point in game the Falcons seemed to have in hand from the start.

The Falcons intended to go for it on fourth-and-two, but a questionable penalty for 12 players in the huddle — a penalty coach Dan Quinn said he hoped “wouldn’t happen again” — pushed them back and forced a punt.

Jones caught two of four targets for 24 yards as the Cowboys rallied for a last-play, 40-39 win as the Falcons pulled defeat out of victory. He tied Roddy White for the franchise record for career catches with 808, but it felt empty after the drop.

“It’s one of those examples of when you have an opportunity, whether it’s on offense or defense or on special teams — it could be in the third quarter; it could be in the fourth — there are these moments that come up, man, and you pounce, and you attack, and when they happen for you, you recognize it, and you feel it, and when it happens to you, you also have the same emotion,” Quinn said.