Patriots’ Jonathan Jones excelled in punt coverage Monday
FOXBOROUGH — It’s widely understood that Bill Belichick geeks out over special teams. He pontificates about punters, bemoans the demise of directional kicking, and swoons over specialists.
For some lesser-known Patriots, that’s a blessing. When a few special teams plays are your only chance to make an impression, it’s good to know your coach is watching closely. That’s how Jonathan Jones, a defensive back who has played only 4.8 of the team’s defensive snaps, felt after making two great plays in punt coverage, helping pin the Ravens at their 1- and 2-yard lines on separate kicks Monday night.
“Here, special teams is big,” Jones said Thursday. “You want to win in all three phases of the game, so whatever phase you’re in, you know, you want to go out there and do your job and you want to execute.”
Those plays mattered: The Ravens didn’t score on either of the following drives. On the play that forced Baltimore to start at its 1 in the first quarter, Jones laid out to bat the ball back as it was headed into the end zone.
By avoiding a touchback, Jones netted his team 24 yards of field position and put the Patriots’ defense in position for tackle Malcom Brown to score a safety.
When a special teams play makes that kind of clear impact, it’s satisfying.
“You know you helped your defense out, you’re giving them a long field to go and back them up, change the field position of the game, that’s kind of key,” said Jones. “Any time, you know, we can get a good punt and we’re able to down it definitely helps the team.”
After the game, Belichick said plays like that have given Jones, who played at Auburn before the Patriots signed him as an undrafted free agent last offseason, staying power.
Belichick said Jones made plays on special teams during preseason practices against the Bears and Saints, and exhibition games against the Panthers and Giants, that got him on the team.
“He kind of showed us that he could do those things,” Belichick said. “He’s been a solid guy for us defensively. He’s played inside and outside but he runs well, he’s tough, he tackles well. You’re right — he gave us some big plays today on punt coverage and in the kicking game but also defensively. He gave us a couple of good tackles and made a play on the toss play. He’s done a good job for us.
“He’s got a lot of staying power. He comes in ready to work every day, really consistent, very professional. He carries himself like a guy that has a lot more experience than what he does.”
Jones did get in on defense against the Ravens, playing in dime packages while cornerback Malcolm Butler and safety Duron Harmon were on the sideline receiving treatment. Jones stayed in the defensive rotation after rookie cornerback Cyrus Jones, who also struggled mightily on special teams against Baltimore, gave up a long completion to fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Jones made two tackles, including one of running back Kenneth Dixon for a loss on the last play of the game.
“Any time you’re on the field, whatever the job may be, you want to contribute the way the coaches want you to and to help your teammates, to help your team win. So whatever position that they put us in I want to go out there and execute,” Jones said.
Jones wouldn’t have had the chance to make those special teams plays if punter Ryan Allen hadn’t had an excellent game, punting six times for an average of 49 yards. The entire coverage unit made those punts count, allowing the Ravens only 12 punt return yards in the game.
“At the end of the day it’s just executing,” Allen said after the game. “I have to have good protection and they’ve been great all year, and once they protect I have to give them a ball to play down there. And they made some plays tonight.”
The Ravens’ average drive began at their 29-yard line, but that number was skewed wildly by the Patriots’ two fumbles deep in their own territory.
Just as those fumbles must have drawn ire from Belichick, Jones could be confident that when his plays stood out, his coach was watching intently.
“It’s a one-play series for us so we’re really out there on special teams for one play, and you can impact the game one way or another, you definitely want to take advantage,” Jones said.