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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Football was on Cyrus Jones’s agenda Thursday night in the Patriots exhibition finale against the Giants at MetLife Stadium.
So was fun.
Jones, who returned to game action last week for the first time since tearing his ACL in this game a year ago, is in a fight for a roster spot as depth cornerback and return man.
“Just continue to be consistent and control what I can control,’’ Jones said when asked his main goals for the game. “And have fun.’’
Consider it a mission accomplished after Jones started at cornerback and served as the kickoff and punt returner in New England’s 17-12 victory.
“Yeah! I played football — that’s always fun,’’ Jones said after the game, in which he collected four tackles and three punt returns for 10 yards.
He was pleased to get in a full night’s work.
“I needed that. It’s been a while since I’ve been out there for a full 60,’’ he said. “I just wanted to make the best of it. Go out there, be consistent, play good football, and let the chips fall where they may. Everybody came to play hard and we got the win for the last preseason game.’’
Jones, New England’s second-round pick in 2016, flashed as a returner during his rookie season, but fumbles (five in all) proved costly and cost him playing time. He played in 10 regular-season games and was inactive for New England’s Super Bowl LI win over the Falcons.
He was working his way back into the rotation last preseason before being injured.
In Carolina, Jones gave a glimpse of the explosiveness that made him such a highly regarded prospect. On his first touch, Jones returned a kickoff 27 yards, sifting through some traffic and being elusive. The play was nullified by a penalty but it was still significant to see a guy coming off major surgery cutting and accelerating.
Against the Giants, he had a punt return of 8 yards but was unable to showcase his explosiveness on kickoffs, with no returns. He did show some stickiness in the secondary.
“I feel like I played solid returning [and on] defense. It’s another building block,’’ he said. “Like I said, take whatever opportunities I get and make the best of them. Keep working hard and get better and everything will take care of itself.’’
Special teams coach Joe Judge said this week he thinks Jones is “playing aggressive.’’
“Coming off an injury like that you have to work your way back into having confidence, which he has shown — he’s definitely playing fast,’’ said Judge.
With cuts coming on Saturday, Jones’s confidence is on the rise.
“Yeah, I feel great,’’ he said. “I mean, this was a big test for me to see how my knee would hold up just with the load of a whole game. You know, I felt pretty good. Small nicks and nacks, which is football, but I feel pretty good about it.’’
Warner: ‘Brady’s the best’
It’s a parochial debate, and one that will rage for a long time, but if you ask Kurt Warner who the best quarterback of all time is, he’s pretty definitive with his answer: Tom Brady.
“The bottom line is get your teams to Super Bowls and give them a chance to win a championship,’’ the Hall of Famer said Thursday during the NFL Media preview in Times Square. “And so, we can argue. Aaron Rodgers? A better pure talented thrower. You don’t get an argument there. But so what? To me, it’s not about who throws the prettiest ball or who’s the most talented. It’s about leading your team to wins and victories and giving your team a chance, and nobody’s ever done it better than Tom . . . and for me, that makes him, hands down, the best quarterback in the history of the game.’’
Warner was there when Brady’s legend was born as he helped the Patriots win Super Bowl XXXVI over the Rams. While acknowledging he could have never predicted Brady’s future greatness, there was one strong indicator.
After Warner’s Rams tied the game at 17-17, he and his mates thought overtime was a given.
“We kind of thought we had taken the momentum — they’re just going to punt it away and we’re going to overtime. They’re not going to . . . boom,’’ said Warner. “They give it to him and he does what Tom does. He drives down and leads them to a field goal and they win their first Super Bowl. That was a glimpse.’’
Sitting it out
Jeremy Hill and Mike Gillislee sat out, meaning both are likely to make the 53-man roster barring a trade. The running back group is thin right now with Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel recovering from knee ailments.
Matthew Slater, Michel, Burkhead, Nate Ebner, Christian Sam, Jacob Hollister, Harvey Langi, Marcus Cannon, Luke Bowanko, Isaiah Wynn, Ryan Izzo, and Trey Flowers were not spotted in uniform.
Of that group, only Sam, the rookie linebacker, was a surprise as the others have been rehabbing injuries. Sam hasn’t missed any practices this preseason.
Fellow rookie Wynn, who tore his Achilles’ two weeks ago, will be placed on injured reserve, perhaps as early as Saturday.
Undrafted rookie cornerback J.C. Jackson picked off Giants rookie QB Kyle Lauletta in the first and third quarters. Jackson left the game in the third quarter and was treated for dehydration after his legs cramped up. The game time temperature was 85 degrees with 50 percent humidity.
“I feel like I had a pretty good game, but I have a lot more to improve on,’’ Jackson said. “I had something to prove. I knew had to ball tonight, preseason game, and I’m going trying to make the roster.’’
Stating their case
The three players the Patriots signed this week had productive nights. Receiver K.J. Maye had a game-high 71 receiving yards while running backs Kenneth Farrow (5 carries, 24 yards) and Khalfani Muhammad (4 carries, 21 yards) were effective . . . Buoyed by Danny “Crazy Legs” Etling’s 113 yards, the Patriots had 199 rushing yards on 28 carries (a 7.1-yard average). The rookie quarterback was also intercepted twice by Donte Deayon in the second quarter . . . Jason McCourty started at safety after making his debut at the position last week. He played most of the first quarter . . . Long snapper Joe Cardona made a tackle and on a punt return and Brady came over to congratulate him . . . The Giants were called for three personal fouls for the controversial “lowering the head to initiate contact” infraction … Both teams lost coaching challenges . . . Rookie punter Corey Bojorquez registered his fourth straight DNP . . . Ulrick John went to the blue medical tent with a foot injury midway through the second quarter . . . Receivers coach Chad O’Shea handled some of the play-calling. Belichick often gets his assistants involved in those duties in the exhibition finale . . . Brady — and several other Patriots — had pregame hugs for Nate Solder. New England’s longtime left tackle signed a gargantuan free agent deal with the Giants . . . This was the 14th consecutive time these combatants have meet in the preseason finale.
Jim McBride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.