The New England Patriots' 30–27 overtime loss to the New York Jets was controversial because of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called on the Jets' final drive against defensive tackle Chris Jones. The penalty wiped out a missed 56-yard field goal by Nick Folk that would have given New England excellent field position.
It's almost inevitable that some fans will call for the Patriots to bench Jones, or maybe even cut him and trade for a veteran, but fans should go easy on him. Here's why.
1. He owned up to his mistake.
First off, Jones took the heat for his mistake.
Chris Jones: "The mistake was mine. I take it. I put it on my shoulders. It was all my fault. It was nobody else’s."— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) October 20, 2013
Respect for Patriots DT Chris Jones, who didn't shy away from any questions from reporters after costly OT penalty.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) October 20, 2013
It's encouraging to see such maturity from a rookie. Perhaps it stems from the fact that despite being a fifth-round draft pick earlier this year, he's already on his third team (he was drafted by Houston, claimed off waivers by Tampa Bay and then claimed off waivers by New England).
2. Almost never is there just one mistake.
But defensive captain Rob Ninkovich and special teams captain Matt Slater defended Jones:
capts Matthew Slater & Rob Ninkovich refuse to let Chris Jones be blamed for loss, saying team left plays on field in all 3 phases all game— shalise manza young (@shalisemyoung) October 20, 2013
Ninkovich and Slater are absolutely right. The Patriots made enough mistakes that avoiding just a couple of them would have been enough for the Patriots to win this game.
Singling out Jones simply because he had the last mistake isn't particularly fair. This is a natural reaction on the part of fans, but that doesn't mean it's the right reaction.
3. Even with the mistake, he still had a good game.
Jones had 10 tackles on the game, three for losses. He also had 2.0 sacks. To put those numbers in perspective, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork had 48 tackles and 3.0 sacks in 16 games in 2012.
Of course, Chris Jones and Vince Wilfork are different players—Jones isn't as big as Wilfork, but he is more mobile. So far this season, he has 3.5 sacks, the same as Houston Texans defensive end J. J. Watt.
4. The Patriots need him.
The single most important reason why the Patriots will treat this as a learning experience is that they don't really have a choice. They've already lost defensive lineman Vince Wilfork for the season, and they've been without their only other veteran, Tommy Kelly, for the last two weeks. They've had to play with Jones and two undrafted free agents, rookie Joe Vellano and second-year player Marcus Forston.
The Patriots would have to make a trade to obtain a better defensive tackle at this point. And, as Bill Belichick pointed out in a recent press conference, Jones "doesn't make the same mistake twice."
I'm certain he'll get more chances to play, and that he'll never make this mistake again.