Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones is questionable for Thursday night's showdown with the New Orleans Saints with a shoulder injury, and coach Dan Quinn said the decision on Jones' status will not be made until close to game time.
Running back Devonta Freeman is set to return from a foot injury and "looks great" after missing the past two games, Quinn said. The Falcons hope Freeman can jump-start a running game that ranks second-to-last in the league at 72.9 rushing yards per game. The Falcons rushed for a season-high 143 yards on 34 carries in a shocking, 26-9 win over the Saints in Week 10, and Brian Hill led the way with 61 rushing yards.
Jones appeared to injure his right shoulder in the first half of last week's 35-22 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but finished the game and played 48 of 85 offensive snaps. He did not participate in Tuesday's practice as the Falcons did light work in preparation for the short turnaround.
"The reason for that is to make sure that he's got strength of the ability to use his shoulder," Quinn said of Jones' game-time status. "If he has that, then we let him go."
Quinn said Jones has made a "big improvement" and has put in the work to make sure he's "ready to roll," but the team wants to make sure he has enough strength to absorb contact. Jones participated in walk-throughs, but that obviously didn't simulate the contact he would absorb in a game.
Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter spoke about Jones' uncertain status coming off the Sunday game.
"I know Julio really wants to play, and he's doing everything in his power [he can] to play," Koetter said. "It's just going to be a game-time decision. ... We've got to plan both ways. The game's going to go on. We'll have to do a few different things with Rid [Calvin Ridley] and with Russ [Russell Gage]. Julio, it's not like that's a guy you replace. You've got to move some guys around and make the best of it."
Jones, who has not missed a game this year despite dealing with a few nagging injuries, leads the Falcons with 64 receptions for 950 yards and four touchdowns. Another 50 receiving yards would bring him to 1,000 for the season, marking his sixth consecutive season with 1,000-plus yards. But Jones hasn't scored a touchdown since Week 3 at Indianapolis.
Quinn ruled out tight end Austin Hooper, who will miss his third consecutive game while recovering from a sprained MCL. Hooper is expected to return next week. Also questionable for the game are tight end Luke Stocker, who has a back injury, and defensive back Sharrod Neasman, who has a shoulder injury.
The Falcons, at 3-8, have not been eliminated from the playoffs officially, but based on their record, it is a long shot. They do, however, have an opportunity to sweep their rival and prevent the 9-2 Saints from clinching the NFC South title inside Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium.