Seconds before Cyrus Jones returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter of the Ravens’ eventual 34-17 win against the Oakland Raiders at M&T Bank Stadium, Jones and defensive back Anthony Levine Sr. voiced the same feeling.
It was time to get a score on special teams.
While officials reviewed an Oakland challenge that was denied, Jones and Levine shared their sentiments with each other and then their teammates.
“It was, I think, during the break when they were reviewing a play, and Anthony was up there because he’s up on the front line and I’m in the back, and he was like, ‘I got you. Let’s go,’ ” Jones recalled. “I was like, ‘Yeah, we’re going the whole field.’ ”
Call it a premonition, ESP or a tingle, but Jones and his teammates turned possibility into reality. Jones fielded the punt from the Raiders’ Johnny Townsend at the Ravens’ 30-yard line, turned to his right, and deftly scampered down the right sideline and into the end zone without stepping out of bounds with 12:45 left before halftime.
“We knew coming in that their punter was kind of inconsistent, and he was going to give us returnable balls,” said Jones, who had entered the game averaging 11.6 yards on nine punt returns for the Ravens. “Like I do every week, I just try to possess the ball first and make a play after that. God bless those guys that are up front blocking for me. They set the wall up, and I just try to make a couple people miss and get around the corner, and we made that happen.”
Levine was a little startled that word of his prediction had gotten out, initially saying, “That’s not for everybody to know, man.”
But he later insisted that a beleaguered unit mentored by special teams coordinator/associate head coach Jerry Rosburg was primed to break out.
“We practice too hard,” Levine said. “We do a lot of practice, and Jerry does a lot of coaching, and he gets on us, and we work too hard. So during that timeout, I just told the guys, ‘Listen, let’s go ahead and do what we practice. Everybody, get on your blocks. Everybody, execute. And let’s meet Cyrus in the end zone. We’re going to score right here.’ That’s all it was. It was time. It was time for us to get a score. We’ve been working too hard for it.”
Jones’ punt return for a touchdown was the team’s first since Michael Campanaro scored on a 77-yarder Oct. 15, 2017, against the Chicago Bears. It was also the first surrendered by Oakland since the Kansas City Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill went 78 yards on Dec. 8, 2016.
“That’s disappointing,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “You give up a 75-yard punt return, 75-yard pass to a tight end, you can’t get off the field, stop the inside running game, and you can’t protect when you have to. Those are the storylines to me. Those are things that I have to figure out, and until we do, we’re going to have a lot of long faces.
On the play, Jones was sprung by key blocks from wide receiver Chris Moore and outside linebacker Matthew Judon on Oakland fullback Keith Smith and Townsend, respectively. Moore, in turn, credited Levine with motivating the players to aid Jones.
“The coolest thing was Anthony Levine came out on the field before the snap and said, ‘We can score on this thing. We’ve just got to do our jobs,’ ” Moore said. “So that’s what I did. I went out there and did exactly what Coach Jerry taught us and just tried to hold my block as long as I can, and Cyrus scored the touchdown.”
This is Jones’ second stint with the Ravens, having joined the practice squad Sept. 3 after the New England Patriots cut him. The Patriots reclaimed him Sept. 19 and then released him Oct. 6, and the Ravens signed him to the active roster two days later.
While Jones spoke to a scrum of reporters, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs joked that he had finally welcomed Jones to the team. “Hey, it’s official! He’s one of us!” Suggs quipped.
Jones’ 70-yard punt return for a touchdown marked his first touchdown in 34 returns since joining the NFL in 2016. That the 24-year-old Gilman graduate was able to score in his hometown of Baltimore made the play especially thrilling.
“Since I got here, and to do it in Baltimore, that’s a lifelong dream, in front of my hometown,” he said. “I mean, it’s an unbelievable feeling. I’ve been through a lot. I can’t really put it into words. I’m going to sit back and relish on it for this night and get back to work on the next week.”