Lost in the drama? Adam Jones had season for the ages

CINCINNATI -- There was a time when Adam Jones wished that the only headlines attached to his name had to do with his performance on the field instead of what he did off it.

But that was the case this past season, when the most national attention the Cincinnati Bengals cornerback received stemmed from two controversial plays he was part of during the Bengals' first and last games of the season.

Both involved penalties that, for many, seemed to solidify the belief they've had about Jones throughout his career: that he's reckless and still doesn't know how to control the emotions he wears so prominently on his sleeve.

The problem with such thinking is that it ignores the reality: Jones is a more complex player than that. Yes, the penalties define him, but so did the 62 tackles and three interceptions he had this season. Lost in the drama surrounding the personal foul that Jones received at the close of Saturday night's wild-card loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers has been that he had a strong 2015 season. Take out two plays that were bookends to his campaign, and the 32-year-old Jones ultimately had a season for the ages.

"He played his butt off. He had a really good year," defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. "[But] at the moment, you can't do that. You've got to walk away from that guy."

The impact of Jones' split-second decision to go after Steelers assistant coach Joey Porter had wide ramifications. Entering Saturday's game, all 46 Bengals who played knew that Porter would try to bait them into actions that might result in their being penalized. It was when Jones tried to lunge at Porter, who was on the field during an injury timeout with 22 seconds left in the playoff game, that he made contact with an official. The contact resulted in a 15-yard penalty that put the Steelers in range for a winning, 35-yard field goal.

Had he walked away, the media Jones has graciously agreed to talk to this week might have also spent more time discussing that he allowed only one pass on four targets.

"If you want to talk about something, let's talk about that instead of the other s---," Jones said Monday.

The only reception he gave up to the Steelers was a 23-yard completion to Antonio Brown on a play in which there may have been confusion between Jones, a safety and a linebacker.

That defensive performance came a week after Pro Football Focus gave him a plus-1.6 pass-coverage grade in the regular-season finale against the Baltimore Ravens. Jones was targeted nine times and didn't allow a catch. Even in the Week 13 game at Cleveland when he earned a negative PFF grade largely for penalties, Jones allowed three catches for just 19 yards. He played that game on a bum foot when he probably should have rested it. Again, he had a good year.

But as he goes into free agency, Bengals fans and fans of other teams might find it hard to recognize that. Along with Saturday's penalty, Jones drew another when he pulled off Oakland Raiders receiver Amari Cooper's helmet in a scuffle in the season opener.

"I'm not going to let that one situation take away from everything I've done for the team and myself these last couple of years," Jones said. "Everybody knows I'm a passionate person and some things I say or do. It's just that I wear my shirt on my sleeve or however you want to say it. It is what it is, man. We'll see how it goes from there."