Cyrus Jones, Matthew Slater add to growing list of special teams mistakes

December 13, 2016

FOXBORO — Inexcusable.

There aren’t many other words to describe the special teams blunders in the Patriots’ 30-23 win last night against the Baltimore Ravens.

One came from a wholly unreliable rookie in Cyrus Jones, the other from the bedrock captain of the unit in five-time Pro Bowler Matthew Slater. Both led to touchdowns and helped the Ravens rally from a 23-3 deficit in the second half at a time when the Patriots were thoroughly outplaying the visitors.

Following a Tom Brady touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett on the Pats’ first drive of the second half, the Ravens went three-and-out and punted from their 32-yard line. Down 20 points, their chances seemed long, but the ensuing punt by Sam Koch hit Jones’ foot, and Baltimore’s Chris Moore recovered.

Two plays later, the Ravens were in the end zone, and it didn’t take long for them to get back there.

Slater took the kickoff, fumbled on a hit by Patrick Onwuasor, and Baltimore’s Shareece Wright recovered at the Pats 22. On the fourth play of the possession, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco found a wide-open Kenneth Dixon for an 8-yard touchdown.

And just like that, a 23-17 dogfight emerged from a potential snoozer.

Jones was not available to the media after the game, but Slater explained that while he can’t speak for the rookie, the rest of the team has no option but to help him through his mistakes.

“I think we just have to continue to be supportive of our teammates,” Slater said. “He’s a guy we obviously have a lot of confidence in. That’s why we keep putting him out there. He’s got a ton of ability. We stick with him, and we stick with everyone in this locker room. That’s the nature of the game of football: There’s going to be ups and downs, and hopefully we can endure through this process.”

It has seemed like a game of endurance with Jones, who was shaky all game and, really, has been all season. In addition to the muff in the third quarter, he nearly made contact with a bouncing ball on a punt in the second.

Still, for as poorly as Jones has played, he, like Slater after making a mistake that resulted in points for the Ravens, has to walk the fine line of not accepting mistakes while also not beating himself up. At a certain point, too much of the latter will compound the problem. At this point, it could already be in effect for the rookie.

“It’s tough, certainly,” Slater said. “When you carry the football, you carry the fate of the whole team in your hands. When it ends up in that situation, it’s very difficult, but I think you have to remember you still have a job to do. There are other facets to the game that you can contribute to and in. You just have to play on and try to fix it the next day.”