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Julio Jones-Richard Sherman duel resumes in NFC divisional playoffs

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman breaks up a

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman breaks up a pass intended for Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) in the second half on Oct. 16, 2016. Credit: AP / Elaine Thompson

It was one of the biggest non-calls of the season, and it cost the Falcons Oct. 16 against the Seahawks in Seattle.

With the game on the line in what turned out to be a 26-24 win for the Seahawks, the Falcons’ Matt Ryan fired a pass to All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones, who was covered closely by renowned and outspoken Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.

The ball fell incomplete, but not without controversy. Replays showed that Sherman held back Jones’ right arm as the ball arrived, but no penalty was called.

The Falcons went on to lose a thriller, but they now have a chance to turn the tables in a far more important game.

It will be Seahawks at Falcons in an NFC divisional playoff game Saturday at the Georgia Dome, and it will be Jones-Sherman in what could be the most crucial matchup of the game.

Jones, who had seven catches for 139 yards and a touchdown in the regular-season matchup, was unusually subdued after that controversial play and didn’t argue the call, or non-call. Why no protests?

“At the end of the day, one play doesn’t define a game,” Jones said this week. “My job is to go out there and compete for the ball, and it’s the referee’s job to call whatever they see. That’s how I get over it. I went out there on that play and competed as hard as I could and didn’t come up with the catch. On to the next.”

It was an eventful game for Sherman, one in which he was on the sideline screaming at coaches and teammates after Jones’ 36-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. When asked this week what stood out about that game, Sherman simply said, “Nothing that I didn’t know. [Jones] is a great player.”

He added that Jones “works the whole game. He plays hard every snap.”

The Seahawks were beaten by the Falcons, 30-28, in a divisional playoff game after the 2012 season, but the Seahawks responded the following year with their first Super Bowl title. Dan Quinn, now the Falcons’ head coach, was the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator back then. He knows Sherman will be ready for this one.

“He understands football completely, but it’s what he stands for as a competitor that makes him so unique,” Quinn said Wednesday. The Sherman-Jones matchup will be “awesome,” he said. “When you see two really skilled competitors really battling for it, it’s totally the essence of our game. We’ll anticipate that one happening a bunch.”

For Jones, it’s the outcome of the game, not his personal duel with Sherman, that matters most.

“We’re in the playoffs,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s not ‘I want revenge’ or anything like that. It’s just that they’re in our way.”

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