Why the Patriots are not about to give up on Cyrus Jones

Mike Petraglia
December 13, 2016 - 2:25 am

Cyrus Jones has sweated through an up and down rookie season. (Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO - Don't expect the Patriots to give up on Cyrus Jones anytime soon.

Twitter and social media nearly broke in the middle of the third quarter Monday night when a punted ball by Baltimore's Sam Koch bounced on the turf and ticked the right foot of the second-round rookie out of Alabama.

The Patriots thought he could be one of the most explosive returners in football when they drafted him as a slot corner/kick returner in April. What the Patriots and the rest of the football world saw Monday night during New England's 30-23 win over the Ravens was that potential blowing up in his face again.

His untimely third-quarter touch set off a chain reaction on the field that swung the game's momentum right back in Baltimore's favor. The Patriots were cruising 23-3 at the time of the bad touch.

The Ravens scored a touchdown. And then, in almost a surreal moment, Jones was actually back to return the ensuing kick. But it wasn't Jones making the mistake this time. It was veteran Matthew Slater, the guy who took blame early in the season for not communicating with Jones on a return in the home loss against the Bills. It was Slater who botched a kick return. Ravens kicker Justin Tucker kicked a directional ball to Slater, who fielded it at the 1 and returned to the 20 before he fumbled.

Another turnover, another short field for Joe Flacco. Another touchdown and remarkably, the Ravens, completely outplayed for most of the game, were within a score at 23-17.

"I think we just have to continue to be supportive of our teammates," Slater said of Jones. "He's a guy obviously we have a lot of confidence in; that's why we keep putting him back there. He's got a ton of ability. But we stick with him. We stick with everybody in this locker room. It's the nature of the game of football. There are going to be ups and downs, and hopefully, we can endure through this process."

It was the rookie Slater who fumbled against the Steelers in 2008, opening the floodgates in a 33-10 Pittsburgh win.

"I don't want to speak for him, because I don't think that would be fair. I don't think that's right. Certainly, early on in my career - early on tonight - I struggled. Those things happen. It's the game of football. As a player, you want to remain confident in the abilities you have. Trust that you're here for a reason. And just try and take advantage of the opportunity while you have it.

"We've all been there. I've been there as a first-year player, I've been there as a ninth-year player. Those things happen and we just try and press onward."

In the second quarter, Jones nearly had the ball chase him down and make contact on a punt that narrowly missed him and was downed at the Patriots' 11. He danced around it like a landmine. But he was able to avoid stepping on the discharge lever. He wasn't so lucky in the second half.

"Just keep on him," Devin McCourty, a defensive captain said. "Keep telling him, keep on coming out here playing. I'm not new to struggles. I've had struggles throughout my career here and you've just got to keep playing. It's football. We have a tough football team. We have a lot of guys in that locker room that care about each other, great leadership."

McCourty recalled what it was like to keep getting burned in 2011 and 2012, when he was still be used as a corner.

"That's what helped me through was just keep playing when I had some struggles throughout my career. He's a very talented player. He's young. He's a rookie. You're going to have some bad plays out there. You've just got to keep playing. We'll continue to count on him, keep on making sure his confidence stays high. I have no doubt that he's going to rebound and keep playing for us and keep playing well for us."

That, in a nutshell, is why Cyrus Jones is going nowhere. The Patriots will keep putting him out there, at least on defense.

Need more evidence? This is what Patrick Chung said about Cyrus Jones when asked if he thinks Jones has the talent to stick around despite the mistakes.

"No doubt, man. We don't keep players here that aren't good so, we're going to go out there," Chung said. "We'll go out here and just keep building."

The irony of all of this was that Devin Hester was on the other sideline watching all of this. What must he have been thinking? The all-time leader in kick returns for touchdowns never had to struggle like Jones. And the Patriots scouts, including Belichick were certainly hoping that Jones could mature into a Hester-like threat.

When will enough be enough with Cy Jones? You can keep asking that question but it's a futile exercise.

Yes, it's getting too late in the season and the games (as we learned last season) are too important to let slip away. But understand this: Cyrus Jones is not Chris Harper.

Twitter was filled with fans calling for the Patriots to cut him. There is zero chance that is happening. There's too much potential and too small a sample size to give up on his talent. Ain't happening.

Adding to his misery Monday was the 47 yard pass play he gave up to Breshad Permian in the fourth quarter that had the Ravens threatening to take the lead. Rob Ninkovich saved the day with a sack and the Ravens settled for a 38-yard field goal.

On the Patriots very next offensive play, Tom Brady brought out his huge eraser and found Chris Hogan as the second option on a seam route and 79 yards later the game was all but over with a touchdown that made it 30-20 with just over six minutes left.

What does Bill Belichick think of Cyrus Jones' ongoing learning curve?

"Well, we turned the ball over three times," Belichick said in his best deflective tone. "Three situations that all I would say are pretty preventable. We've just got to do a better job of taking care of the ball than we did tonight, and that's everybody that handles it so we'll work on those things. We'll work on it with everybody. It's everybody's responsibility to protect the ball who handles it and we've just got to do a better job of it. We've got to coach it better. We've got to handle it better."

It is safe to say, however, the kid's days of returning punts are done for this year. But as history has shown with Devin McCourty, Matthew Slater and Patrick Chung, sometimes the payoff takes a while to arrive.