Six Points For Week 1: James Jones makes triumphant Packers return
The Chicago Bears’ defense was lined up in a two-high-safety look. Aaron Rodgers raised and lowered his foot. The snap did not come. It was an attempt to see if the Bears would show their hand, and they did when safety Antrel Rolle flinched toward the middle of the field.
Rodgers saw it. He then peeked to his left at James Jones, who had Bears cornerback Alan Ball over him in tight 1-on-1 coverage.
Jones had seen that look before. Though it had been a while, he knew what it meant.
"Yeah, he gives you a double look and you know that there’s a chance you’re going to have an opportunity to get the ball," the Green Bay Packers wide receiver told FOX Sports by phone from the team plane after his two-touchdown performance in the team’s 31-23 Week 1 victory over the NFC North rival Bears on Sunday. "It feels like I’ve been gone for 10 years, but I’ve only been gone for a year, so I do know a lot of the things he’s trying to do and a lot of the signals. The chemistry comes back real fast.
"It’s like an ex-girlfriend; you broke up for a couple of months and now you’re back. You really don’t lose too much."
Jones didn’t lose much, either. Just a year with the Oakland Raiders and a summer with the New York Giants, who released him at the end of the preseason earlier this month.
However, Jones doesn’t feel his time with the Giants was a loss at all. In fact, he counts it as a blessing because the Giants’ current offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo was an assistant with the Packers during Jones’ entire first stint with the team from 2007-13. So all summer long, Jones was basically running the Packers’ offense, which gave him the time to refresh for a reunion that made perfect sense once Jordy Nelson went down with a torn ACL in late August and the Giants cut Jones less than two weeks later.
"It’s kind of like the story of my life. A lot of ups and downs," said the 31-year-old Jones, who lived in homeless shelters for the first 15 years of his life while both parents battled drug addiction. "I’ve been on a journey, but at the same time, I always find myself in the right situation. God always puts me in the right situation. I just stay hungry, keep working hard and good things happen."
Jones made some good things happen in Chicago on Sunday.
First, there was the 13-yard fade over Ball to give the Packers their first lead of the game at 7-3 in the first quarter. Then, in the second quarter, there was a 34-yard pass up the left side over Ball, who got a fingertip on the pass. Jones displayed great concentration to make the catch anyway.
"You know what, I saw it get tipped, but he didn’t get enough on it to move the ball," said Jones, who finished with four catches for 51 yards. "So when he tipped it, it still was able to keep the spiral on it and keep the spin and I was able to catch it."
Jones added his second touchdown on a slant route past Ball (who didn’t have the best day, in case you aren’t following). Ball had the fade route from the first quarter in his mind, so Rodgers checked to a slant. Jones made a quick move to easily beat a flat-footed Ball for a 1-yard score that again gave the Packers the lead at 17-13 in the thrid quarter.
"It’s amazing he’s been cut by two teams in five months," Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb said of Jones. "It just makes zero sense to me."
Cobb was sitting next to Jones on the plane, the two of them playing cards just like they used to a few years ago. Things felt just like the first time around, even if the sure-handed Jones was still angry about what should have been his third and fourth touchdowns — a deep ball that bounced off his chest in the fourth quarter and another one earlier that was called back by a holding penalty.
"I’m gonna lose sleep on those," Jones said. "I should’ve had four, but I came away with two and a win, so I can’t complain."
Not after the disappointments of his short stints with the Raiders and Giants, both of whom somehow felt like they didn’t need a reliable veteran’s services. Jones claims he never doubted he’d continue his NFL career.
"No, because I knew I had a lot of good football left in me," he said. "I wasn’t really worried about it. I knew I would have an opportunity to play somewhere.
"But honestly, I didn’t know it would line up like this."
ALDON SMITH’S RETURN
The Oakland Raiders didn’t waste any time getting Aldon Smith on the field after signing him late last week. That showed a confidence in his athletic ability in the same way they’ve shown confidence in his being able to deal with his personal issues. According to sources, Smith did not go to rehab after his arrest on DUI charges in August. However, he has undergone outpatient therapy that’s focused more on dealing with mental issues than with merely combating subtance abuse. In other words, Smith is working to treat the underlying issues that have led to his using alcohol in the past.
Smith’s remaining in the Bay Area to continue working with the same therapists and counselors he’d worked with during his time with the 49ers and beyond was also a factor in the Raiders’ signing him.
"I had a couple of choices of places I could go, places I had different offers. Some more (money), some less, some the same," he said. "But I’ve got a house here, I have a son here, this is my home."
One other big key is the presence of Raiders veteran defensive end Justin Tuck, who shares an agent with Smith, has become friendly with him since arriving in Oakland last year and has served as a mentor for Khalil Mack.
What’s becoming increasingly clear is the independent concussion experts who are now evaluating players on the sidelines and elsewhere could lead to a much more cautious approach when it comes to head injuries, even with quarterbacks.
We saw it with Robert Griffin III during the preseason and on Sunday we saw it with the Cleveland Browns’ Josh McCown. Indications were McCown never blacked out and wasn’t suffering from any severe symptoms. Yet McCown was taken to the locker room and ruled out shortly thereafter. It didn’t matter to the doctors and trainers that McCown’s absence badly hurt the Browns’ chances of beating the Jets because of Johnny Manziel’s limited preseason work. They weren’t taking any chances with McCown. Expect the cautious approach to continue, even if it’s a quarterback in a key spot.
WHEN IS A CATCH … A CATCH?
Still don’t know what a catch is? Jason Garrett does.
The NBC cameras, in a very tight close-up of the Dallas Cowboys’ coach as he challenged what was initially ruled a completed pass for the New York Giants’ Larry Donnell, caught an irked Garrett telling the officials, "I know what the rule is." Garrett’s frustration surely was due to the fact his club was on the wrong side of this rule last postseason, when Dez Bryant lost the ball while stretching for the goal line, as well as the fact it was his last challenge. Garrett and the Cowboys spent the entire offseason trying to better understand the catch rule.
In this instance, it was incredibly confusing for many watching because it appeared Donnell took two steps before he started to fall to the ground. But on replay, the call was overturned and it was deemed Donnell was falling during the act of making the catch, which made it an incomplete pass once Donnell hit the ground and the ball popped loose. A third-down conversion turned into a punt.
So at least one positive came of that Bryant situation for the Cowboys, albeit more than seven months later.
LATEST ON JPP
Our Jay Glazer reported on Sunday morning Jason Pierre-Paul has issues with three of his fingers and had a skin graft done on his hand last week. Glazer reported Pierre-Paul wanted to put a cast on the hand and go out on the field along with his teammates on Sunday night. While his passion is admirable, Pierre-Paul’s hope to play this weekend was never grounded in reality. As I wrote last week, if Pierre-Paul’s camp truly believed he was close to playing, they’d be demanding the Giants start paying him installments of his $14.8 million salary. They’re not, so what does that tell you?
Glazer reports Pierre-Paul will be re-evaluated in about six weeks. That doesn’t mean that’s when the Giants expect him to be ready to return. Sources told me late last week the Giants believe the best-case scenario for Pierre-Paul is for him to play about half of this season. Again, that’s the best case. The worst case? Who knows? Maybe he doesn’t play at all this year. But at this point, no one knows for sure.
What we do know is no one should expect to see Pierre-Paul on the field before November. And given Glazer’s report on the condition of Pierre-Paul’s hand, that should be no surprise.
This was supposed to be the year the Jacksonville Jaguars started showing signs of progress, the season when all of the work GM Dave Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley had put in over the past few years would begin to pay off. This team has taken a patient approach to rebuilding and has opted to give younger players time to develop in many cases, rather than reaching to plug in veterans as much as possible.
But after Sunday’s 20-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers at home, it’s about time to start wondering if the payoff is coming. Two years is an eternity in the NFL and, given all of the optimism surrounding the Jags entering the season after taking that time to rebuild, a better performance in the opener should be expected, especially with Panthers All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly out of the game after suffering a concussion late in the first half.
The Jags’ current regime had better hope Blake Bortles is really ready to take the next step and this team will somehow start to play better than they showed on Sunday because owner Shad Khan’s patience will begin to wear thin.