Joe Haden keeps Falcons star WR Julio Jones in check in Steelers’ win
Despite leading the NFL in receiving yards, Julio Jones was searching for his first touchdown entering the game Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Exiting the game, the Atlanta Falcons star receiver still is seeking that elusive first score thanks to the play of Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Joe Haden.
Assigned to follow Jones, Haden didn’t allow a catch to the receiver until the fourth quarter. By that time, the Steelers were well on their way to a 41-17 victory at Heinz Field.
Jones, who entered the game with 502 receiving yards, finished with five catches for 62 yards. All of his production came in garbage time as the Falcons trailed by 17 points heading into the fourth quarter.
“That was solid,” Haden said. “No touchdowns is the big thing.”
Haden typically starts at left corner, with Artie Burns and Coty Sensabaugh splitting snaps on the right side in recent weeks. This time, Haden lined up across from Jones no matter the side of the field. The only exception was when Jones began his route in the slot.
“They had a good gameplan for me,” Jones said. “Discouraged me early on.”
The previous time Haden was asked to break protocol and follow a receiver was in Week 16 last year when he shadowed Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins.
Hopkins didn’t have a catch in the first half and finished with four catches for 65 yards and a late touchdown in a Steelers’ 34-6 win on Christmas.
“We know that Joe is game for a challenge, and Joe did a heck of a job today,” coach Mike Tomlin said.
The challenge was nothing new for Haden. He shadowed Jones twice in college when Haden was at Florida and Jones at Alabama. He did it for the Cleveland Browns in 2014, limiting Jones to five catches for 68 yards and a touchdown.
“It’s a mutual respect,” Haden said. “At the end of the day, he’s going to get his. I’m going to get mine. He’s a great talent. When you’re getting people paid $16 million to be a wide receiver, he’s obviously pretty good.
“It’s a mental game of him knowing I’m going to be in his face trying to make sure he doesn’t catch it. It’s just a battle.”
One that Haden keeps winning.