When cornerback Marcus Jones intercepted Arizona Cardinals quarterback Colt McCoy in the third quarter of the New England Patriots’ 27-13 victory on Monday night, the former Enterprise High School and Troy standout accomplished a feat that hadn’t been done in the NFL in almost 70 years.
Jones became the first player in the NFL with an interception, receiving touchdown and punt-return touchdown in the same season since Pro Football Hall of Famer Ollie Matson for the Chicago Cardinals in 1954.
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A third-round draft choice on April 29, Jones is the only player to do that in the first 12 games of his career.
In the NFL’s Super Bowl era, Jones joined Deion Sanders as the only players with an interception, receiving touchdown and punt- or kickoff-return TD in the same season. Sanders accomplished the feat, with a kickoff-return touchdown, with the Atlanta Falcons in 1992.
In addition to his interception on Monday night, Jones made a career-high seven tackles and broke up another pass on defense, had a 12-yard reception on offense and returned a punt 7 yards and ran back two kickoffs for 47 yards on special teams. He was on the field for eight offensive snaps, 67 defensive snaps and 11 special-teams plays.
In the time that all these stats have been tracked, Jones is the second player to intercept a pass, catch a pass, return a punt, run back a kickoff and make a tackle in the same game. Tennessee Titans cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones did it in a 24-17 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Dec. 17, 2006, when he had four tackles. Marcus Jones had eight tackles on Monday night, including one he made while on offense after the Cardinals intercepted a pass.
“I think it’s cool having him helping when he can,” Patriots quarterback Mac Jones said on Monday night. “The kid’s on special teams, he’s hitting people on defense and covering really good receivers and then coming over and running full speed on motions and running routes, so just really great leadership from him. He’s not a vocal guy and he’s a young guy, but to show that he’s going to give it 100 percent no matter what his role is is pretty cool.”
Marcus Jones’ punt-return touchdown came on Nov. 20, when his 84-yard score with five seconds to play gave New England a 10-3 victory over the New York Jets.
On Dec. 1, Jones caught a 48-yard touchdown pass in a 24-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills on the first offensive snap of his NFL career.
“It feels great,” Jones said of his varied role. “Just coming in day-in and day-out, making sure I know what to do, and the main thing I said before is however I can help the team, I’m definitely down for it.”
Jones said playing all over the field can take something out of a player.
“Fatigue is real, so yeah, but I’m not winded winded,” Jones said on Monday night. “Making sure that my body’s good and recovered and everything. Nobody in this league can play every down on each side and everything, but the coaches definitely know when to put me out there.”
Even more than his physical conditioning, Jones said knowing what to do in his varied roles is of primary importance.
“Making sure I know what to do playbook-wise, that’s the main thing,” Jones said. “Just staying on that and making sure I know what to do when I’m out there on different sides and just communicating, because sometimes you could have different things happen, but just communicating.”
New England coach Bill Belichick didn’t discover Jones’ versatility.
At Enterprise, Jones earned ASWA first-team All-State honors in 2016, when he intercepted five passes, returned three punts, one kickoff and one fumble recovery for touchdowns and also caught a TD pass.
At Houston last season, Jones recorded 47 tackles, intercepted two passes, ran back 15 kickoffs for a 34.0-yard average and two touchdowns, returned 26 punts for a 14.4-yard average and two touchdowns and caught 10 passes for 109 yards and one touchdown.
The Associated Press selected Jones as a first-team All-American cornerback, and he received consensus All-American recognition in the all-purpose/return-specialist slot. Jones’ wide-ranging performance earned the 2021 Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player.
Between Enterprise and Houston, Jones played two seasons at Troy. He was the Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year in 2017, when he returned three kickoffs for touchdowns.
New England’s victory on Monday night boosted the Patriots’ record to 7-6 and back into a playoff position in the AFC standings with four weeks left in the regular season.
After playing in Glendale, Arizona, on Monday night, New England will practice at the University of Arizona this week before the Patriots’ game against the Raiders in Las Vegas on Sunday.
New England’s stretch run will feature three opponents who have won at least eight games apiece – home contests versus the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 24 and Miami Dolphins on Jan. 1 and a regular-season finale on the road against the Buffalo Bills on Jan. 8.
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Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter at @AMarkG1.
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