With 2:57 left on the clock and trailing the Saints 24-17, the Bears punted from deep in their own territory in hopes they could stall New Orleans and regain possession to close the one-score gap. On the punt, though, Jones raced downfield and accidentally grabbed the face mask of his blocker, drawing a 15-yard penalty that allowed the Saints to start their drive at the Bears’ 36-yard line.
“It is an unacceptable penalty,” Bears special teams coordinator Richard Hightower told reporters on November 7. “And why? Because we pride ourselves on situational football. In that situation, we could have had the ball at the 50-yard line against an outstanding punt returner. And that was a beautiful punt by Trent [Gill] and beautiful coverage.
“It’s just unfortunate that we have to talk about that part of the play — because that’s what happened,” he said. “So it’s unacceptable.”
Some fans argued that Jones was in a tough situation with Saints blockers all over him when he grabbed the face mask, but Bears head coach Matt Eberflus made no excuses for his young wide receiver when asked about the play during Sunday’s postgame.
“Yeah, it was a facemask. He grabbed it,” Eberflus said. “You just can’t do that. We’re pro football players and coaches. We know you can’t grab the facemask. We’ve got to be better than that.”
Ultimately, the penalty did not factor in the outcome of the game. The Bears defense held the Saints to just 7 yards on the drive, and New Orleans missed a 47-yard field goal attempt with 2:30 left to play.
Velus Jones’ Penalty Cost Bears a ‘Perfect’ Punt Play
Hightower has a knack for breaking down special teams plays in clear and detailed ways during his weekly press conferences, and showed it again when discussing the fourth-quarter play on which Jones drew his face mask penalty. However, his breakdown of how “perfect” everything else went only underscored how big Jones’ mistake was.
Here’s why Hightower found it to be an “unacceptable” penalty from Jones:
That is a bad penalty, and here’s why that’s a bad penalty:
We’re in a backed-up punt situation. Trent’s punting out the back of the end zone basically, which is a tough punt to execute that doesn’t happen all the time. Trent hits a phenomenal ball, out past midfield. We have phenomenal coverage by the gunner on the right side with Darrynton [Evans], we have elite coverage with Roschon [Johnson] coming down the field, cutting off the field return, and it’s a six-yard gain versus one of the top punt returners in the NFL. And we have a penalty, which is a bad penalty, 20 yards away from the play, which then moves the ball 15 yards, close to right outside field goal range.
So our defense held and Kyler [Gordon] … forced the missed kick from their kicker [on the next drive], but that is unacceptable.
Velus Jones Running Out of Chances to Prove Himself
The Bears appear to be running out of reasons to keep Jones on their 53-man roster. The mistakes — including his costly face mask against the Saints — continue to pile up for the 2022 third-round pick, who entered the season already on thin ice with the team. And when Jones does play mistake-free football, he struggles to make a real impact.
No performance better encapsulates the Jones experience than his game against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 8. Jones returned one kickoff for 24 yards and caught one pass for 4 yards, but he also drew a costly 15-yard penalty for fair catch interference that set the Chargers up at their own 45-yard line on their second touchdown drive.
More frustratingly, Jones also dropped a well-placed touchdown pass from quarterback Tyson Bagent with the closest defenders at least 5 yards away from him. On the pass, Jones appeared to try to slow down to make the catch but slipped and fell onto his butt in the end zone. The ball still hit him square in the chest, but he couldn’t secure it.
Beyond Jones’ mistakes, Chicago’s opponents are also essentially eliminating the one area of his game where he has actually proven he can be good: returning kicks. He is averaging 27.2 yards per return in 2023, but he has fielded just six kicks in eight games.
It is hard to fault Jones for not getting opportunities to return kicks, but it does beg the question: If Jones cannot impact the game as a returner, is he worth a roster spot?