The New England Patriots’ rookie class had its most active day of the season on Sunday, with several of its members playing prominent roles in the 27-24 loss against the Green Bay Packers. One of them was Marcus Jones, who left his mark in the return game.
Taking full control of the Patriots’ punt and kickoff return operation, Jones ran back a total of six kicks. He returned a pair of punts for an average of 24.5 yards, and four kickoffs for 27.8 yards per attempt.
The sample size is a small one, but the Houston product showed the promise that made him one of the most electric returners in college football last season. Just ask Bill Belichick.
“Marcus has worked hard on the return game all year. The ball handling and decision making and all that, at this level, is just a lot more difficult and a lot more challenging than what it is at the college level given the skill of the punters, and the kickers, and the kicking game in general,” New England’s head coach said.
“He had had a good week and we were ready to take a look at him in that role. I thought that he stepped up and handled it pretty well. That was good.”
Jones originally joined the Patriots as a third-round draft pick earlier this year. One of the most versatile players in the entire draft, and the winner of the prestigious Paul Hornung Award, he made an impact as a return specialist, cornerback and even receiver in college.
While he has yet to show that same skill at the next level, the game in Green Bay was a step in the right direction. Jones himself, however, made sure to deflect any praise coming his way.
“The main thing is doing my job, not trying to do too much. And also, I have guys who are definitely great teammates,” he told reporters on Monday. “Without them, I wouldn’t be able to do anything at all. That’s the main thing, trusting in my teammates and them trusting in me too.”
Performances like Sunday’s will certainly help build that trust, while also allowing Jones to gain more experience against NFL-caliber opposition. The youngster appears to embrace the challenge coming with all of that.
“It’s definitely not for everyone,” he said about working as a returner. “It’s definitely rush. It’s a rush that I like to have, though. It’s definitely one of those situations where a lot of things fly around, but as long as you got your head in the right place and make sure you got your technique right and watch your keys and everything, everything should go well.”
At least on Sunday, it did. As a consequence, it appears the Patriots have found an answer to their questions at the punt and kickoff return roles — and a pretty good one at that.