FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As members of the media surrounded New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones at his locker after Sunday’s 41-13 victory over the Miami Dolphins, the voice of another Patriots player bellowed out from the back end of the locker room with an announcement for all to hear.
“Sack Man is back, Chandler Jones!” the player yelled.
Jones laughed at the statement before bringing to the media’s attention that fellow defensive end Rob Ninkovich’s sack on the day gave him three straight seasons with eight sacks. There wasn’t much more for Jones to say about himself. He had let his game do the talking in his return.
In his first game back since a hip injury forced him to miss six games, Jones recorded 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble as the Patriots defense stifled the Dolphins for the majority of the afternoon. Jones played in 55 of the team’s 81 defensive snaps (including penalties) and looked explosive in his time on the field.
“I feel like when you’re on the field and when you’re in between those lines, there’s no 70 or 80 percent; you have to go 110 every time,” Jones said. “I feel like if I didn’t have the ability to go 110 percent, I shouldn’t have been out there. I always go 110 percent every play.”
It had been a long time coming for Jones to make his return. Initially expected to miss four to six weeks after injuring his hip in an Oct. 16 victory over the New York Jets, Jones was out just over eight weeks. There had even been reports shortly after his injury that he could miss the rest of the regular season. But instead, he kept working to get back, nearly returning last week and looking strong during practice this wee, showing coach Bill Belichick that he belonged on the field.
“This week he was able to take a lot of reps and certainly looked like he was ready to go from a practice standpoint, a conditioning standpoint,” Belichick said. “It was good to get him back out there.”
And it was good for Jones to get back out there. All week, Jones had been told it would be a day-to-day thing as he remained a limited participant in practice. So to be deemed active for a game that the team not only won, but used to clinch their division? Jones couldn’t help but take it to heart.
“Just a few months ago I was on crutches, so for me to be out there running with my team, I got a little emotional,” he said. “It felt good to be out there; it did.
“Just going through that whole routine and process of a pregame again kind of felt a little emotional like, ‘This is happening. I’m back out here.’ You’ve just got to enjoy it, every day and every second that you have the opportunity to play at this level, you’ve just got to enjoy it and that’s what I try to do every day.”
Jones’ teammates certainly enjoyed having him back as well.
“It makes our job a lot easier in the secondary, trust me,” cornerback Darrelle Revis said. “Chan is one of our best defensive linemen at rushing the quarterback and he made some plays today. It was great.”
“He’s played great football all year and it was killing him being sidelined,” defensive captain Devin McCourty said. “It was really good for him to get back out there. He made plays like he has done all year when he’s been out there. Another key guy on our defense and having him back healthy is huge.”
In addition to getting Jones back, linebacker Dont’a Hightower also played after missing last Sunday's game at San Diego with a shoulder injury. Meanwhile, defensive lineman Sealver Siliga returned last week after missing nine games with an injury. The Patriots’ defense is getting healthy at the right time, and it has defensive captain Vince Wilfork pleased.
“Getting [Jones] back this week, getting Sealver back last week and Hightower back this week, we’ve got all our dogs back,” Wilfork said. “That’s where we want to be. We want to be healthy going into December these next games ... so we can be at full speed moving forward.”
The Sack Man is back, along with the rest of the dogs. And the Patriots are prepared to make a full push heading toward the postseason again.