Had everything gone according to plan, Jabrill Peppers would not have returned a pair of punts during the New England Patriots’ win over the New York Jets on Sunday. However, the 27-year-old had different ideas.
After rookie Demario Douglas had bobbled the first punt of the day in rainy conditions, the Patriots opted to send the veteran Peppers onto the field for the second. The instructions were simple: don’t take any risks, and just fair-catch the ball.
However, when he fielded a Thomas Morstead punt midway through the first quarter, Peppers saw an opportunity he knew he had to take advantage of. So, he went rogue.
The result? An 18-yard return that set up the Patriots offense at the 36 instead of its own 18-yard line.
“It was a good feeling,” Peppers told reporters on Wednesday. “I was a little rusty. I was really supposed to just fair-catch them, but when I looked and saw I had green grass, I couldn’t. Especially in that type of environment with the weather affecting the game, I tried to get the offense as close to scoring position as I could. So, it is what it is.”
Was Peppers making up his own plans when on the field an issue for the coaching staff, though? It does not appear it was.
Despite going against team orders, he was sent out there for two more punt plays. He added another 7-yard return plus a fair catch while sharing punt return duties with Douglas, who himself finished the day with one fair catch and two runbacks for 14 yards.
“They just gave me a little laugh,” Peppers said when asked about his coaches’ reaction to the first punt return. “I just smiled a little bit. But I definitely think I left some [yards] out there. My first time being back there in a couple years, two years now, I believe. I still got it. I felt good. I still have my little burst, made a couple guys miss. I think I still got it a little bit.”
Peppers, a 2022 free agency addition, was not asked to return punts in his first year with the team. However, with All-Pro Marcus Jones now on injured reserve because of a torn labrum suffered in Week 2 the team turned to him and Douglas to take over the role.
And while the Patriots did not primarily sign him for his special teams prowess — Peppers has been on the field for 94 percent of defensive snaps so far this season — it does come in handy now. The question is whether or not he will keep playing that role despite his heavy defensive workload as a starting safety.
Peppers himself would be open to it, or any other usage the coaching staff has in mind for him.
“We’ll see. We’ll see.Whatever I can do to help the team. It is what it is,” he said. “It definitely hurts losing Marcus, so whatever I can do to help give the team a boost, I’m down to do it.”