New England Patriots rookie cornerback Cyrus Jones has been returning punts since his first day of spring practice. He put together his best return of the preseason Friday, seemingly evading the entire Carolina Panthers coverage team during an electrifying 60-yard runback.
“I think it’s the same thing with any returner,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick told reporters after the game. “If you can just get him started, then those guys have to make some yards on their own with their run skills. And Cyrus certainly has shown us an ability to do that.”
Jones’ return gave New England the ball at Carolina’s 30-yard line. Five plays later, quarterback Jacoby Brissett found wide receiver DeAndre Carter for a 12-yard-touchdown pass, which proved to be the difference in a 19-17 Patriots win.
Brissett enjoyed the best game of his young career, going a perfect 9-for-9 passing for 84 yards with one score.
“In the end, (Jones’ return) was probably one of the key plays in the game,” Belichick told reporters. “The field position, and (it) gave us an opportunity to tack on that extra touchdown, which, as it turned out, we needed. It was a good run, but really good blocking by the return team, as well. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit, too.”
While Jones had recorded a fumble recovery and an interception in his first two preseason games, he’d been a non-factor from a special teams perspective, returning three punts for just 24 total yards before Friday.
The Patriots clearly want their second-round draft pick, who totaled 85 yards on three punt returns against Carolina, to play a major role in their return game this season. Jones doing so would allow Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, both of whom were banged up at times last year, to lessen their workload and thus lower the risk of future injury.
Belichick also commended New England’s punt coverage unit, which held Ted Ginn Jr. and Damiere Byrd to nine total yards on three returns. The same unit had struggled mightily two weeks ago against the New Orleans Saints.
“I thought we covered kicks well,” Belichick said. “This was probably the best coverage game we’ve had.”
Thumbnail photo via Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports Images