I've been thinking about Jacoby Jones' defining moment a lot lately.
Isn't it funny how quickly a player can change everything we think about him in the football world? NFL players, at this point of time in Americana, usually are playing football for around a decade of time before they are drafted. Hopes, dreams, sacrifice, and hard work. For both their families and them. Yet with one major gaffe at a bad time, they can become complete laughingstocks.
Once Jones fumbled away seven points to the Ravens, it completely shifted the perception that fans had of him. Oh sure, I imagine most people had the mercurial label on him long before that, but this was the play that cemented how he'll be thought of. Dangerous returner? Well, not when it counted. The fact that Jones has been returning punts (for the most part) well since 2007 no longer matters, and the fact that he was leading NFL receivers in YAC+ as of Week 14 doesn't either. Screwing up in a game is one thing -- essentially ending the miracle run of a team's first playoff berth is another.
I don't necessarily hold out hope that Jones is going to reverse this narrative. He's been here for five seasons, which is right around the actual shelf life of most punt returners. However, I wanted to contrast this scenario to a few other moments in time in which Texans fans (myself included) let one play dominate the discourse about a player. To their detriment.
Remember this play? Ragdoll. Chris Myers, the man we all want to re-sign. In fact, the man some people would place as a higher priority than either Arian Foster or Mario Williams. The fact that this play happened completely dominated the discourse about Myers for the better part of a year-and-a-half. While I still would say that he is a below-average pass blocker based on his physicality and can be abused by big noses one-on-one, I think you'd be lying to yourself if you don't think he's one of the ten best centers in the NFL.
But there was one play in which he looked particularly awful, and one day in which he had no chance. That sack by Kris Jenkins was not an outlier on the day -- he trounced Myers all day long in that game, beating him off the line of scrimmage on several snaps and causing havoc for Matt Schaub. Losing to the Jets in a winnable Week 1 home game (on paper) was one of the main reasons the Texans didn't actually make the playoffs in 2009.
In particular, I would say that the touchdown at 0:28 was a source of much derision. The fact that Brice McCain played so far off the ball on the goal line was inexcusable, and that was probably the easiest touchdown of Mark Sanchez's career. People wanted him cut, people wanted the other corners to play, and this was essentially the last game McCain was given on the outside. After drafting two corners in the 2011 NFL Draft, just about everyone had left him for dead.
2011? McCain was stellar as a nickelback. Of course, part of that is having actual safeties and a scheme that wasn't run by Frank Bush, but I would argue that he played extremely well within the system. He broke up a few passes that I would not have necessarily thought he could get to, and showed a wider skill set than I thought he had.
Again, that's not to say that I necessarily disagree that the Texans should pull the plug on Jacoby Jones. There is a far larger sample size of his work than there was for either of those players at the time, and he has delivered plenty of drops and fumbles to go along with his good plays. I'm just saying that there is a danger in letting one play or game dictate the entire conversation about someone.
I see no reason to change my regular evaluation of him: Jacoby Jones is an adequate fourth receiver and punt returner. He is worth a roster spot. If your team is not throwing the ball downfield, he probably shouldn't see too many offensive snaps. He is error-prone, but he also has shown a tendency to make big plays happen.
No matter the feelings you harbor for him after the playoff game, and in my case they are very bitter, it's hard to really be too mad if he makes the 2012 53-man roster as a low-salaried specialist.