Patriots rookies enjoying differing degrees of success
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Under Bill Belichick, the Patriots have become masters at culling more diamonds than duds from the NFL draft.
This summer was no exception despite New England drafting without a first-round pick as part of its ''Deflategate'' punishment.
New England picked Alabama cornerback and punt returner Cyrus Jones in the second round. Then, a few rounds later they went with another Southeastern Conference-tested prospect, Georgia receiver Malcolm Mitchell.
Both are having memorable seasons as the Patriots wind toward the playoffs following a 30-23 win over the Ravens Monday night . But only Mitchell is producing the kind of memories worth savoring.
Mitchell has become a reliable target for Tom Brady, picking up the slack nicely for receiver Danny Amendola, who missed his first game of the season with an ankle injury. Mitchell had four catches for 41 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter that helped put the Patriots up 16-0.
He's posted all four of his touchdowns this season over the past four weeks. Not bad for a player whose season seemed in peril after he suffered a gruesome-looking left elbow injury during New England's preseason opener.
''It says a lot for a rookie to be playing his best in December,'' Brady said. ''It speaks to what he's all about, his mindset, his character, his determination. He's worked his butt off since he got here and he's put himself in a great position. With Danny getting hurt he's gotten more opportunity, and we're going to need it.''
Meanwhile, after struggling to hang on to the ball during kick returns , Jones' issues continued against Baltimore. He had his fifth fumble of the season in the second half, setting up Baltimore's first touchdown two plays later.
Jones wore the disappointment on his face as he trudged toward the sideline following the turnover, a reminder that he still needs work on an issue he thought he was past.
But coach Bill Belichick put the onus on the entire team to be better at ball security and eliminating mistakes, noting special teams captain Matt Slater's fumbled kickoff and Brady's interception Monday.
''We turned it over three times and all of those players and all of the other players - we've got to do a better job of it,'' Belichick said. ''We've got to coach it better. We've got to handle it better.''
Despite his ongoing issues, Jones still has a lot of support in the locker room.
''You're going to have some bad plays out there,'' safety Devin McCourty said. ''You've just got to keep playing. We'll continue to count on him, keep on making sure his confidence stays high.''
Mitchell said overcoming mistakes was the biggest key against the Ravens.
''We played as a team, even when we dealt with adversity,'' he said. ''We still stuck together, stayed focused, and did enough to win the game.''
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