FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- On the same field that the New England Patriots authored their epic comeback in Super Bowl LI, could 2016 second-round draft choice Cyrus Jones have started his own personal comeback story?
There were some long-awaited encouraging signs from Jones, the former Alabama cornerback who had a rocky rookie NFL season that finished with him as a healthy scratch for five of the team's final six games, including the Super Bowl.
His 32-yard punt return in the second quarter on Saturday was a highlight, and the overjoyed reaction of several Patriots teammates reflected that they are well aware of his struggle that led to the Maryland native telling the Baltimore Sun he didn't feel like he was a big part of the team's championship season.
Most importantly, perhaps, Bill Belichick liked what he saw Saturday night in Houston.
"I thought Cyrus did a good job in the return game, both punts and kickoffs," Belichick said in his Sunday afternoon conference call. "He ran hard, ran aggressively, made good decisions with and without the ball. We had a couple situations where the ball hit the ground or was going out of bounds."
Jones finished with four punt returns for 58 yards (14.5 average) and added one kickoff for 17 yards. A return for minus-3 yards late in the second quarter -- in which he fielded a punt at the 12 with his momentum taking him toward his own end zone -- brought the numbers down.
Jones' value as a returner was what ultimately led the Patriots to select him 60th overall last year, with director of player personnel Nick Caserio saying at the time that the club has a cluster of players it was considering before Jones' dynamic work as a returner led them to him.
But Jones struggled with judgment and ball security last season. In the preseason opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he couldn’t get things going in the return game and was in coverage on two long pass plays (but not necessarily fully responsible on one of them). It wasn't the start he hoped for in turning the page to a new season.
If Jones ultimately turns things around, Saturday could ultimately be viewed as the night the shift began.