In a 26-23 Dolphins loss with Himalayan-scale peaks and valleys, no player rode the roller coaster more than safety Reshad Jones.
The fourth-year safety, who signed a four year, $29.4 million contract in the offseason, was again victimized in the passing game against the Ravens on Sunday, just a week after being targeted repeatedly by the Saints.
But Jones also made the Dolphins’ biggest play of the game — a 25-yard interception return for a touchdown.
With his team down seven in the fourth quarter, rookie defensive end Dion Jordan rushed Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco from the blind side and tipped the ball as it was being thrown. The ball floated into Jones’ hands for his first interception of the season, and a convoy of blockers allowed him to stroll into the end zone to tie the score 23-23.
“I understood the situation,” Jordan said. “I just had to give my best pass rush. I got under the [blocker] and reached for the ball, and fortunately I was long enough to tip the ball where he just floated it.”
The ball hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity. Jones’ thoughts while he waited for it to come down?
“Just catch it. I need to be the one to make this play. We were down by seven. Someone had to come up and make a play. I just happened to be the one to make it.”
Jones’ 2013 résumé, which already included the titles “hero” and “scapegoat,” can now include “prophet.” Earlier in the week, Jones spoke of his performance against New Orleans and evaluated his play this season.
“I have been playing solid, but I’ve made no game-changing plays,” Jones said this week. “You will see me come up with interceptions.”
As a whole, however, Jones, who had four interceptions last season, has struggled when defending the pass this year, and his play is one reason the team has struggled to stop running backs, tight ends and slot receivers from catching passes with alarming efficiency.
A week ago, Saints quarterback Drew Brees completed three of four passes in Jones’ area, including a 48-yarder to Darren Sproles on the game’s opening drive. The week before, Jones allowed four completions on the five passes thrown his way. Against the Colts, 3 for 3 and a touchdown. Against the Browns 1 for 1.
Jones struggled to play coverage again Sunday and allowed several completions, most notably a 43-yard gain to tight end Ed Dickson.
“We had great coverage on him. He just made a play at the right time,” Jones said.
Entering Sunday’s game, Pro Football Focus rated Jones as a below-average pass defender in every game this season and gave him the second-worst overall pass coverage score on the team.
It should be noted that PFF also scored him the Dolphins’ second-best run defender (after defensive tackle Paul Soliai), and the pass coverage problems aren’t Jones’ fault alone.
Cornerback Brent Grimes, who has played well this season, had trouble keeping up with Ravens speedster Torrey Smith on Sunday. Smith totaled 121 yards on six catches.
“I think they were really trying to focus on stopping the run,” Smith said after the game. “It left some opportunities out there.”
With the coming bye week, there will be plenty for the Dolphins to work on, but pass defense will likely be stressed as one of the biggest areas that needs improvement. Flacco had three completions of 40 yards or more Sunday, and Brees bullied the Miami linebackers and safeties in his 413-yard performance last Monday.
Still, Jones’ interception shows that, with a good pass rush, a few plays in the secondary can go a long way toward winning games.
It just wasn’t quite enough Sunday.