New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones has come under fire for a seemingly dirty play during Saturday's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, and he addressed the situation on Monday.
During a radio appearance on WEEI, Jones was asked about his decision to dive at the legs of Bengals cornerback Eli Apple during a fumble return that was later ruled an incomplete pass, and he said he had no ill intentions, per Mike Reiss of ESPN.com.
"I went down in front of him to kind of get in the way to stop him from slowing down Tyquan, who obviously could make the tackle there. So just kind of went down in front of him, trying to stop a fast guy from getting to another fast guy.
"It's a split-second decision and there's a lot that goes into it. You're out there trying to compete, it's a physical game. So just trying to help the team win.
"I have all the respect for Eli and the Bengals. They played a great game. So, there's no hard feelings and definitely no intention to hurt anybody on that play. Nor do I believe that when I'm playing quarterback, that's what [the defense is intending to do]; I get hit a lot, too. We're all out there playing hard. It's just part of the game."
During the play, Jones appeared to go out of his way to take out Apple's legs while Cincinnati linebacker Germaine Pratt ran down the sideline. Jones initially was chasing Pratt before appearing to target Apple.
After the game, Apple sounded off on Jones and accused him of being a dirty player.
"Of course I did [notice it]. He tripped me," he said, per NESN's Sean T. McGuire. "I thought it was a dirty play. He's done that before; I've seen it."
This isn't the first time that Jones has faced criticism for his actions on the field. During his rookie season, the 24-year-old was called out by Carolina Panthers defensive end Brian Burns for grabbing at his leg and appearing to twist his ankle after a strip-sack. Jones said he thought Burns had the ball (and Jones didn't face any punishment from the league), but Burns didn't buy it.
"Even if you thought I had the ball, it's not legal to trip somebody or leg sweep somebody, let alone twist [an] ankle; it's not legal to do that," Burns said at the time. "Everybody else ran past us. If I had the ball, don't you think I'd be getting tackled? Or your teammate would help? So, I don't think it's cool, but it's whatever."
Jones' growing reputation as a dirty player is not a good look for the second-year signal-caller. It also came during another disappointing outing for him and the Patriots offense, which will look to improve against the Miami Dolphins in a New Year's Day clash between AFC East opponents.