Jones Quietly, Patiently Redeems Himself

By all accounts, the rookie handled it like a polished pro. James Jones didn’t hide from the media. He didn’t blame anyone but himself. He didn’t dwell on the mistakes and simply went back to work. - More | Packers-Chiefs Game Center James Jones Named NFL Rookie Of The Week


By all accounts, the rookie handled it like a polished pro.

Three games ago, receiver James Jones fumbled twice on receptions against the Chicago Bears, two early turnovers that proved costly in the Packers' only loss thus far.

But he didn't hide from the media. He didn't blame anyone but himself. He didn't dwell on the mistakes and simply went back to work.

But he also, like anyone in that situation, was privately waiting for a shot at redemption.

"After the fumbles, you wish you had a game the next day to redeem yourself," Jones said. "You just have to learn how to put it behind you and just go on to the next play and the next game and keep on playing."

Jones did that, but just as the fumbles tested his mettle in his first NFL season, the wait tested his patience a bit as well.

Lost in the shuffle of the defense's superb second half in the 17-14 victory over Washington on Oct. 14 was that in his first game since the fumbles, Jones didn't catch a pass.

He had just one ball thrown his way in the first half, and it was incomplete. In the third quarter, he was open deep but the ball was underthrown and picked off. On the next series, he caught a 23-yard touchdown pass that was nullified by a questionable holding penalty.

So Jones had to go into the bye week with no contributions to speak of since the Oct. 7 Chicago game, the kind of wait that might have rattled a more fragile psyche.

"I think it was coincidental more than anything else," receivers coach Jimmy Robinson said of Jones getting shut out against Washington. "And I think James knew that. Honestly some games they come to you in droves, and some games not a lot comes your way, and that's just the nature of this business.

"As a receiver in this league, you have to be ready for those kind of days and not let them get you down and not let them frustrate you."

Jones wasn't frustrated, especially with the team winning the game, but after waiting through the bye week he couldn't have asked for a better return to center stage.

Last Monday night in Denver, on the Packers' second possession, Jones beat one of the league's top cornerbacks in Champ Bailey down the right sideline, caught Brett Favre's deep throw in stride and weaved his way back across the field for a 79-yard touchdown. He added two more catches in the second half to notch his first career 100-yard game (three catches, 107 yards).

Redemption was official, and with all the post-game attention focused on Favre's dramatic 82-yard TD pass to Greg Jennings to beat the Broncos in overtime, Jones was more aware than anyone that his long TD catch was his first reception since Oct. 7.

"Yeah, I did realize that," Jones said. "But like I said, as long as we keep winning. I told Greg on the sidelines - he congratulated me on my 100-yard game - but if we don't win it doesn't mean anything. I'd rather have zero catches and get the win than have a 100-yard game and get the loss."

All the qualities wrapped up in that comment - the self-motivation, the maturity, the team-first attitude - were all things the Packers were counting on when they spent a third-round draft pick on Jones back in April.

The Packers knew Jones was a grown man coming out of college, having spent time in homeless shelters as a child, so there were never any doubts he would bounce back from the two fumbles, even if it took a little longer then he wanted for an on-field accomplishment to make early October ancient history.

"As Ted Thompson said, he's faced tougher adversity in his life than a couple of fumbles," Robinson said. "As big as they may have been at the time, when you think about football versus life, what he's had to go through growing up, he's a strong, mentally tough young man. So it's going to take a heck of a lot more than that to keep James Jones down."

All the questions surrounding him when he was drafted didn't bother him either. Many analysts doubted the Packers made a wise move using a third-round pick on Jones, who was considered by some a late-round pick at best. He was supposedly too slow, too pedestrian, and not battle-tested coming from small San Jose State.

But Jones, for one, thought differently. He credited his receivers coach for his first two seasons in college, Keith Williams, for teaching him some of the nuances of route-running that helped refine Jones' raw abilities at a young age.

"A lot of guys that come (to the pros) from college, your athletic ability is a lot better than a lot of the DBs you play, unless you play a first-round DB," Jones said. "So technique is big. A lot of guys come in here and their route-running is not up to par, and the veterans, they see all that. That was one thing that helped me get over the top and adapt to the game a lot faster."

{sportsad300}In addition to his strong hands and well-developed physique, the Packers also saw on film that Jones stood out when San Jose State played against larger, better programs. His senior year alone, he faced two Pac-10 schools and recorded nine catches for 130 yards and three TDs against Washington, and added eight catches for 82 yards plus a dynamic 42-yard TD run against Stanford. Later that season, he posted eight catches for 88 yards and two TDs against eventual Fiesta Bowl champion Boise State.

"There was always (the question) what's it going to be like when he steps up in this league against tough competition every single week?" Robinson said. "Well, we saw that when he played the bigger games against the tougher teams, that he played well.

"We wanted to make sure we didn't miss out on him. There's always that risk that you wait too long to take a guy, and I think in this case we certainly were smart in how we went about what we did and how we chose. He's just a guy that has a tremendous amount of talent."

Jones has lived up to that, and as the 14th receiver taken in the draft, it says something that he currently ranks second in receptions (26) and yards (400) among all rookie receivers in 2007.

The only rookie ahead of him in those categories is one who will be at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday as well, Dwayne Bowe from LSU. Bowe was the Chiefs' first-round draft pick and has 29 receptions for 499 yards, and he leads Jones in touchdowns three to two.

Thus far, Jones and Bowe are the only rookie receivers in the top 50 in the league in receptions or yards. Detroit's Calvin Johnson and Indianapolis' Anthony Gonzalez, also first-round picks, are the next-best from the 2007 draft class.

That illustrates just how difficult it is for rookies to make an impact in the passing game in the NFL, but with the head-to-head meeting with Bowe upcoming, Jones doesn't look at Sunday's game as a chance to prove he's at the head of the group. Rather, he sees it as an opportunity for two newcomers to show what they mean to their successful teams.

"I'm not really focused on being No. 1 or anything like that," Jones said. "I'm excited for Dwayne Bowe. To see rookies coming out and perform, and to let people know we can play in this league right away, it should be a good game.

"I just hope our corners beat him down a little bit, you know," he added with a smile, "to help us get the win."

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