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Patriots Groomed Marcus Jones For Breakout Moment

Marcus Jones proving to be a difference-maker for the New England Patriots returning punts.

FOXBORO — Marcus Jones didn't wait long to show the New England Patriots and their fans what he can do with a punt in his hands.

Jones' punt-return skills were on display Sunday afternoon as the Patriots hosted the New York Jets.

With 20 seconds remaining in the game, Jones retrieved a clean punt from Jets' Braden Mann and broke off an improbable 84-yard punt return, running it to the right sideline before breaking all the way back across the field, beating the punter, and scoring a game-winning touchdown with just five seconds left in the game.

"Without my teammates on that play, that would have been a hard play to make," Jones said.

What made that play even more gratifying is Jones left the game earlier and was listed as questionable to return with an ankle injury. It was the first game that Jones’ mother and father made to Foxboro together.

“In 15 years, I’ve never won a game like that,” longtime Patriots special teams ace Matthew Slater told reporters. “Unbelievable effort by Marcus, obviously.”

Bill Belichick was asked if you can teach a player to become a good punt returner, or if they have to have a certain instinct. Belichick gave credit to his coaching staff.

"I think Troy Brown has done a great job with him,” Belichick said. “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, and so forth."

When the Patriots drafted Jones in the third round of last April’s draft, it seemed safe to assume that the two-time All-American returner from Houston might instantly take over the return duties in New England.

But when Week 1 of the regular season started, it was third-year defensive back Myles Bryant handling the role.

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"We didn't feel like he was quite ready at the beginning of the year," Belichick said. “Then as Marcus got better and gained more experience and confidence and then performed well, then he's handled all the return games for a number of weeks now."

Over the course of Belichick's tenure in New England, he's fielded some high-quality punt returners. [Troy] Brown, Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, and 2020 All-Pro returner Gunner Olszewski were all threats for explosive returns and all four of them ran back at least one return for a touchdown.

Through the Patriots' first 10 games, Jones has run back 17 punts for 283 yards and 14 kicks for 340 yards. The 24-year-old is the first NFL player this year with a punt return for a touchdown.

"He's fast. He's quick. He returned punts and kickoffs (at Houston),” Belichick said. "He also played some offense. He was converted to a receiver. He was an explosive playmaker that ended up moving to defense, played inside, played outside, and returned kicks."

As the Patriots prepare for their second of three games in a 12-day stretch, Jones projects as a crucial part of this team. His contributions in the return game can benefit the field position battle, or of course, he has the chance to put points on the board.

Jones and the Patriots will take on the Minnesota Vikings on Thanksgiving night. Kickoff is set for 8:20 p.m. from U.S. Bank Stadium. 

You can follow Kevin Tame Jr. on Twitter @Kevin_Tame

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