Marcus Jones’ Breakout Giving Reeling Patriots Hope For Future

'He's just ridiculous'


Dec 24, 2022

FOXBORO, Mass. — We’ve reached the “searching for silver linings” portion of this lost Patriots season, and Marcus Jones’ remarkable emergence as a true all-phase weapon certainly qualifies.

The Patriots’ rookie cornerback/wide receiver/return man ignited New England’s ill-fated, second-half comeback against the Cincinnati Bengals when he returned an interception 69 yards for a touchdown. Later, he pounced on a fourth-quarter fumble by receiver Ja’Marr Chase, giving the Patriots the ball in Bengals territory with 3:08 remaining.

The drive stalled when Rhamondre Stevenson fumbled inside the 10-yard line, snuffing out the Patriots’ 18-point rally. Cincinnati held on to win 22-18 at Gillette Stadium, pushing New England to the brink of mathematical playoff elimination.

But Jones, the Patriots’ third-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, once again showed he’s capable of impacting a game on offense, defense and special teams the way no other active professional football player can. 

“He’s just ridiculous,” quarterback Mac Jones said in his postgame news conference. “Great player, great teammate. Explosive, lines up, runs full speed on offense. Lines up and goes full speed on defense. Same thing on special teams. I love the guy.”

A year after winning the Paul Hornung Award as the most versatile player in college football, Jones is the first NFL player in more than 45 years to score on a punt-return touchdown, a receiving touchdown and a pick-six in the same season. Only one other NFL player in the Super Bowl era — the great Deion Sanders — has even done so over the course of his entire career.

All three of Jones’ touchdowns have come in the last six games. He was the only Patriot to find the end zone in Week 11 against the New York Jets (84-yard punt return in a 10-3 win) and Week 13 against the Buffalo Bills (48-yard catch-and-run in a 24-10 loss). His interception return Saturday opened the scoring for New England late in the third quarter.

Cincinnati led 22-0 at the time, and the Patriots’ offense had yet to cross midfield. Mac Jones proceeded to throw fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers, but two missed extra points by Nick Folk and Stevenson’s fumble killed their comeback bid. 

With Jalen Mills and Jack Jones both inactive due to injury for the second straight game, Marcus Jones played nearly every defensive snap at outside cornerback against Cincinnati. At 5-foot-8, 185 pounds, he lacks prototypical size for that position — he’s better suited for the slot — and surrendered two long contested completions to 6-foot-4 wideout Tee Higgins. The 6-foot Chase also beat him for a first down on third-and-17. These issues also cropped up for Jones during his college career at Houston and in the Patriots’ previous game, when 6-foot-1 Raiders wideout Keelan Cole beat him for a game-tying touchdown in an eventual Las Vegas win.

Jones’ playmaking ability offsets his occasional coverage slipups, however, and he also provided a spark on offense. After getting the wind knocked out of him on his fumble recovery and requiring medical attention, he quickly returned and played most of the Patriots penultimate offensive possession, weaving through Cincinnati defenders to pick up 15 yards on a wide receiver screen.

The Patriots also continued to use Jones as their primary punt returner, though they did sub him out for rookie running back Pierre Strong on a few Bengals kickoffs.

“Marcus, bro,” said outside linebacker Matthew Judon, who forced the fumble that Jones recovered. “Marcus is always in the right spot at the right time, and he makes the correct plays. I don’t think you can ask more from a guy, but every week we do, and he delivers. And I just — that’s what you do. We put the pressure on each other. We put the expectancy on each other, and I think every week Marcus has come out and delivered.”

With a playoff bid still a remote possibility — the 7-8 Patriots would need to upset Miami and Buffalo in their final two games and get help to nab a wild-card spot — players and coaches aren’t yet shifting their attention to next season. But you can be sure head coach Bill Belichick and whoever is leading his offense and defense in 2023 will find plenty of ways to get their one-of-a-kind rookie involved.

Thumbnail photo via Eric Canha/USA TODAY Sports Images
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