Jonathan Jones steps up for Patriots defense without Stephon Gilmore
James Lang / USA Today Sports
The Patriots defense played another stellar game on Sunday against the Raiders, allowing only eight points and holding Oakland to just 344 yards of total offense while forcing a pair of key turnovers. And while starting corner Stephon Gilmore had to leave midgame with dehydration issues, second-year backup Jonathan Jones stepped up big-time--locking down opposing receivers and playing key roles on both takeaways.
As MassLive reported, Jones was in coverage on both turnovers. The first, a Derek Carr interception on a deep throw down the left sideline, had Jones blanketing Raiders wideout Johnny Holton. After Carr's pass dinged off Holton's shoulder pad safety Duron Harmon was able to clean up an interception. On the second play, Jones stood Oakland's Seth Roberts up at the five-yard line before linebacker Marquis Flowers rallied to strip the ball for a fumble (which the Pats recovered).
Without Gilmore in the lineup, Jones played 70 snaps: 94.6% of the team's total defensive plays and an easy season high. While first-year Patriot Johnson Bademosi replaced Gilmore after his Week 5 concussion, Jones has contributed throughout the year in the slot and made a convincing case on Sunday for more playing time if Gilmore or Malcolm Butler face more injury problems in the future.
As NESN also pointed out, Jones could be good "insurance" if the Pats decide to trade Malcolm Butler or if he leaves after the season. He's certainly shown the chops for the position with his play this season. And with Eric Rowe currently injured and Bademosi waiting in the wings (not to mention Gilmore across the field), Jones would have plenty of support from his teammates in the secondary. Also, the physical comparisons to Butler are undeniable. Both are undrafted free agents who are slightly undersized (5'10") for the position and play with a distinctive aggressiveness and swagger. It would be almost fitting to see Butler receive a massive payday and pass the torch to Jones.
But no matter what happens after the end of the year, Jones has proven himself an invaluable contributor to this season's club. His ability to play both in the slot and outside at a high level is exceedingly rare; it's given Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia the flexibility to tailor secondary personnel groupings to each week's opponent. That approach has clearly paid off--the Patriots D hasn't allowed more than 17 points in over six weeks. With Jones playing at such a high level, they might not allow 17 points again through the end of the year.