If you’ve been paying attention to my weekly rookie grades, you know I’ve been beating the drum for Marcus Jones to see more playing time for weeks. It took two muffed punts from Myles Bryant early in the season for the Patriots to replace him with Jones, who came out of college with the reputation of being an elite return man. All he has done in that role is lead the NFL in total kick/punt return yards (623) while placing second in the league in average yards per punt return (16.6). It was his 84-yard punt return that was the difference on Sunday in the Patriots 10-3 victory over the New York Jets and the decision to make Jones the primary return man looks better each week. Now it’s a matter of how many third down receptions Bryant can give up before Jones replaces him at corner as well.
Here’s how Jones and the rest of the rookies performed in Sunday’s win at Gillette Stadium.
Marcus Jones, A
As the Patriots offense struggled to score points all afternoon, you got the feeling that the defense or special teams would need to make a play in order for them to win. Jones did not see the field on defense for the first time since week four in Green Bay but was his usual self, returning kicks as he had four punt returns for 109 yards. After he missed a punt because he needed to get his ankle taped, Jones provided the game-winning score with five seconds left. I still can’t believe the Jets actually kicked to him.
Brenden Schooler, B+
Usually not great when two special teams guys are your top two rookies, but that’s where we are this week. Schooler has gotten better as the season has gone on and added another special teams tackle to his resume on Sunday, giving him a team-high nine for the season. He also added a key block on the Jones punt return for the win.
DaMarcus Mitchell, B
All 24 of Mitchell’s snaps came on special teams but like Schooler, he was also able to make a key block allowing Marcus Jones to go 84-yards for the game-winner.
Jack Jones, B-
The Jets were awful throwing the ball on Sunday as Zach Wilson completed only nine passes for 77 yards. However, 34 of those yards came on one play when Denzel Mims victimized Jones on a pass down the sidelines. With the swirling winds, the ball got caught in the air and Mims got away with a slight push off in his adjustment to make the catch. It helped lead to the Jets lone field goal.
Cole Strange, C-
A penalty free day for Strange after struggling the past few weeks, but once again the Patriots interior line struggled with the Jets front surrendering six sacks. Quinnen Williams was once again a problem, registering a sack and seven tackles as Strange and rest of the line struggled without David Andrews. Running the ball was also an issue as the Patriots were held to just 99 yards on 26 carries. They ran behind Strange and Trent Brown on a fourth down play and got stopped for no yards.
Tyquan Thornton, D
Only one catch for five yards for Thornton on what figured to be a tough day against the Jets secondary. However, it was a disappointing day for Thornton as he dropped an easy catch on third down early in the game and pretty much benched after that, only seeing the field for 17 snaps. That made Thornton the fifth wide receiver in terms of number of snaps.
Incomplete: Pierre Strong, Bailey Zappe, Chasen Hines
Inactive: Kevin Harris, Sam Roberts