Quarterback Matt Ryan has limited options to throw to today when the Falcons host Tampa Bay in an NFC South battle that both teams need to win to break out of slumps. (Reuters)
ATLANTA — When Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones went under the knife on Monday to repair his right foot, the Falcons’ passing attack went on life support.
Through the first five games, Jones, who went to his first Pro Bowl last season, had accounted for 26.9 percent of the receptions and more than 35 percent of the team’s passing yards.
In addition to losing Jones, wide receiver Roddy White also won’t be available today against Tampa Bay.
White, who was already being used as a decoy with a right high ankle sprain, suffered a left hamstring injury against the New York Jets and has missed two practices since the team returned from the bye.
The Falcons are preparing to face Darrelle Revis with Harry Douglas, Drew Davis and Kevin Cone, the team’s No. 3, 4 and 5 receivers. As a backup, they signed Brian Robiskie, a former second-round pick, as a free agent.
“You plan for it every week,” Cone said. “You don’t want guys to go down, but that’s what happens in this game. People get hurt and the team is counting on everyone to step up and make plays.”
Douglas has been the team’s slot receiver since being drafted in 2008.
Cone, who played at Georgia Tech, and Davis, an Oregon product, were signed as undrafted rookie free agents in 2011. They spent a season on the practice squad before contributing on special teams in 2012.
With Jones and White spending time missing a lot of practice time this season, Cone and Davis have worked extensively with quarterback Matt Ryan in practice.
“It’s always good when you get extra reps with the starting quarterback,” Cone said. “The more reps you get, the more you are in sync and the more chemistry that you build. That definitely has happened this year because of injuries. I think that will pay off.”
Cone caught his first NFL pass against the Jets. Davis doesn’t have a catch this season, but had four for 40 yards and touchdown last season.
“Now, that we have a couple of people down, it’s about that time for us to step up and do the best that we can,” Davis said. “The best thing we can do is see what Matt wants from us and where he wants us on certain routes and certain plays. We have to be in the right spots to make plays.”
Cone and Davis had bonded since their days on the practice squad and running scout team routes together.
“We’re just two hard working guys,” Davis said. “We’re going to go out there and block, we’re going to catch the ball and try to get things done. Kevin is a great guy and I’m glad we are getting this opportunity. Now, we have to go out and do something good with it.”
Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is counting on Cone and Davis.
“Any guy that’s on an NFL team, you have confidence in them and they are good enough to play,” Koetter said. “With that said, with Julio definitely out and Roddy, may or may not be out, those are two of the best players in the NFL. So, the next guys have to step up.”
Koetter doesn’t have any delusional expectations.
“The guys that have to take their place have got to do the best that they can and we have to play to their strengths,” Koetter said. “We still have a great quarterback. We still got a great tight end. We still got excellent running backs. It just changes the way you attack a little bit.”
SERIES HISTORY: 40th regular-season meeting. Bucs lead series, 20-19. The Bucs won the last meeting, 22-17 last Dec. 30 at the Georgia Dome. Falcons coach Mike Smith has a 7-3 record against the Bucs. The Falcons have won seven of the last nine meetings.