One of the most underrated blows to the Patriots 2021 season was losing defensive back Jonathan Jones after just six games. Since entering the league in 2016 as an undrafted free agent, Jones has gone from a special teamer and slot corner to one of the most experienced and versatile members of the secondary who can play just about anywhere.
On Sunday, Jones was back in a familiar place, lining up against Tyreek Hill and holding him to 50 yards on four catches while matched up per PFF. He even punched out a fumble that took an unfortunate bounce out of bounds, as the playmaking aspect of the veteran's game quickly reemerged.
With turnover at the cornerback position, the Patriots figure to lean heavily on Jones this year, no matter where he's lining up.
"Jon's a very versatile and important guy to our team since he came here, in the kicking game and defensively," said Bill Belichick last week prior to the start of the season. "He's smart, he's fast, he's tough. All good things in the kicking game and all good things defensively, tackling, covering fast receivers, and making smart decisions inside and the nickel position which is where things can get kind of complicated with bunch formations and run force and things like that. So very professional, works hard, prepares well and brings a high level of toughness, competitiveness and speed to our team."
Defensive play caller Steve Belichick echoed those sentiments during assistant coach availability on Tuesday.
"I've loved that kid since the day he walked in the building," said Belichick. "His versatility, his toughness, his intelligence, how hard he plays... I can't say enough good things about Jon Jones. And just having him back on the field it helps everybody out there on defense."
Jones had missed just one game in his first five seasons before missing 11 in 2021. Now, with less experience among the cornerback group, 2022 might prove to be Jones' most valuable season yet. He's already taken a mentorship role over "little brothers" Jack and Marcus Jones, who both got their feet wet against Miami.
"Whether he was playing star or in a matchup game plan in the past I know he's capable of doing it," said cornerbacks coach Mike Pellegrino.
With another potent group of receivers on tap that include Diontae Johnson, George Pickens and Chase Claypool, Jones will once again play an important role as the Patriots look to get their first win of the season, while also providing critical experience and leadership for the younger members of his position group.