We all know Bill Belichick loves himself some special teams — to the point where he regularly spotlights reserves on other teams most people wouldn’t care about just because they’re good in the kicking game.
So it must have pleased him immensely to see Marcus Jones steal a victory in heart-stopping fashion with an 84-yard punt return touchdown with mere seconds left to play against the Jets on Sunday (even if other portions of that game might’ve had him shaking his head).
That’s exactly why the Patriots drafted Jones aside from his potential as a slot cornerback: he was the best return man in college football last year and has positively electric abilities with the ball in his hands.
But plays like the one Jones made to beat the Jets didn’t come right away, and Belichick made sure to shout out a former Patriots legend for helping make it possible.
“I think [wide receivers coach] Troy Brown has done a great job with him,” said Belichick of Jones’ work with Brown, who was an excellent punt returner in his time as a player with the Patriots.
“Where Marcus was when he got here and where he is now are – they're an ocean apart. Troy has really done a good job with the ball handling, ball catching, making the first guy miss, ball security, setting up blocks, having vision on the ball, the gunner, playing the wind, so forth," Belichick added. "Marcus – we didn't feel like he was quite ready at the beginning of the year. We went with Myles [Bryant]. Then as Marcus got better and gained more experience and confidence and then performed well, then he's handled all the return game for a number of weeks now.”
Jones actually made a poor impression in his first few return opportunities of training camp, muffing his first tries with the first-team punt and kick return teams in practice. But when he got comfortable, you could see Jones had burst no one else on the return units did. From there, it wasn’t hard to picture what was possible. He just had to develop some consistency.
Once Jones earned the job as the team's return specialist, he didn't give it back. Finally, after a few big returns, he reward the Patriots in a major way.
If this is a sign of things to come, Jones could become a weapon in the kicking game unlike any the Patriots have had aside from Brown himself and perhaps Dion Lewis. At the very least, he made his first NFL touchdown count in a big way for a New England squad that needed it more than ever.