Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin took the chance in bringing in nine-year veteran return man Jacoby Jones a few weeks back after he was released mid-season by the San Diego Chargers. Last night, his chances ran out.
The veteran returner fumbled the opening kickoff after trying to return it from about eight yards deep into the end zone, the ball popping out upon contact with the first defender, and recovered by the Indianapolis Colts.
Admittedly, that was just the second fumble on a kick return in his career, on 183 returns. But when he fumbled again trying to run down a punt in the second quarter that he called for a fair catch, it was the last straw. For me, for Tomlin, and for everybody else that gave him the benefit of the doubt.
Jones has been with the Steelers for just four games, and has fumbled three kickoffs and punts, losing one, recovering one himself, and having a teammate recover the third. His three fumbles on 14 total returns is a terrible ratio.
The veteran’s terrible display prompted Tomlin to tell reporters during halftime that Jones was “done”, after the game giving the very simple explanation for his benching that he wasn’t holding on to the ball:
It was obvious he wasn’t holding onto the ball. We’ve got some guys that are capable, although they’re established guys and you’d like to preserve them in those instances if you can. Under the circumstances I didn’t feel like I could because he wasn’t holding on to the ball. It’s as simple as that.
In the second half, Antonio Brown returned a punt 71 yards for his fifth return touchdown of his career. The All-Pro receiver had taken a back seat to Jones as the return man since he was signed four games ago.
When Jones struggled in his debut, Brown requested the opportunity to return a late punt that he ended up fumbling. After last night’s results, I don’t expect that he will have to make a request again.
It seems rather likely that Jones will not be on the roster by the time the Steelers head to Cincinnati next week. He was given ample opportunities, and excuses were made for him, but enough is enough.
This year has been a rough one for Jones, whom the Ravens declined to re-sign. In San Diego, he struggled behind a poor special teams unit, exacerbated by an ankle injury, before he was released. He then had to move cross-country to Pittsburgh, where he had little to no practice time and no place of residence by the time he played his first game.
But he had the bye week to settle down, and last week averaged over 29 yards on four kick returns, including three returns over 30 yards. It was thought that perhaps he was finally in a good place, but that also meant there were no more excuses.
Though he averaged over 30 yards per kickoff last year, and over nine yards per punt, which are excellent numbers, Jones also fumbled a total of four times on returns. He has now fumbled three times with the Steelers, clearly establishing a trend.
The 31-year-old will likely struggle to find a suitor for his services after the season he has had this year, if he is indeed released during the week, which should be fully expected. Should this be the end of the road, he will finish his career with nine total return touchdowns—and 16 fumbles on returns.