BOSTON (CBS) — Injuries are always the biggest concern when it comes to the fourth and final preseason game, and the Patriots were hit with a potentially costly one.
Second-year cornerback/return man Cyrus Jones limped off of the Gillette Stadium field in the second quarter against the New York Giants on Thursday night, and according to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, the Patriots fear Jones has been lost for the season.
Jones suffered the non-contact injury when his knee buckled while racing down the sidelines with Giants receiver Travis Rudolph. He did not return after limping to the New England locker room, and losing him for the entire season would leave a big void on the New England special teams unit.
While Jones was a longshot to do much in the secondary, he was slotted as the Patriots’ top punt returner once Julian Edelman went down for the season last week in Detroit. With both of them sidelined, there’s no clear replacement on the Patriots when it comes to returning punts.
There are a number of options to step in and fill that void, but none of them are permanent fixes. Danny Amendola has returned 147 punts in his career and is the likeliest candidate, but is it worth risking another injury to a reliable Tom Brady target, one who will likely find himself in a bigger role on offense with Edelman down?
Dion Lewis can handle kickoff return duties, but he has no punt returns in his NFL career. It’d be a giant risk sending him out there, mainly on the injury front. Safety Patrick Chung has a pair of punt returns in his career, and he’s always up for whatever Bill Belichick asks of him, but he’s more of a band aid than an actual solution.
Jones’ injury may mean running back D.J. Foster lands on the 53-man roster on Saturday. He’s been on the bubble and has no punt returns in the regular season, but he did return three punts during the preseason. Corner Will Likely is another candidate to make the roster because of his return skills, with 67 punt returns during his days at Maryland, including four touchdowns.
There’s also a chance the Patriots look outside of the organization for some help on punt returns, which would mean someone else loses out on a roster spot. Either way, Bill Belichick has a tough call to make with the regular season less than a week away.