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Raiders newcomer puts potential on display in Chargers win

Updated December 15, 2023 - 3:17 pm

Raiders interim coach Antonio Pierce almost benched Jack Jones the play before the second-year cornerback’s interception return for a touchdown Thursday against the Chargers.

Seriously. Jones was that close to being yanked during the Raiders’ 63-21 demolition of Los Angeles. He was jawing so much on the sideline Pierce asked wide receiver Davante Adams to intercede.

“I told Davante to go tell him to shut up,” Pierce said. “And I was going to pull him.”

Jones responded by making one of the game’s best plays.

He sniffed out what the Chargers were running based on their formation, then made a perfect break on a pass thrown by quarterback Easton Stick. Jones secured the ball and returned it 16 yards to the end zone.

“Then I had to really pull him because I knew he was going to really act a fool,” Pierce said, joking.

Therein lies the rub with the ultra-talented Jones. He constantly straddles the lines between good and bad, right and wrong and aggressiveness and recklessness. It’s why the Raiders were able to claim him off waivers from the Patriots last month.

The former Arizona State standout is just the kind of player a coach wants to bench one minute and hug the next. It takes a unique leader like Pierce, who coached Jones in high school at Long Beach Poly in California, to understand that dichotomy. He may be the force that can get Jones to mitigate the bad and increase the good.

Pierce, who was also a Sun Devils coach during Jones’ three seasons at the program, pounded the table for his former player when Jones was waived by New England on Nov. 13. The Patriots had grown wary of Jones’ off-field troubles. Pierce believed the Raiders’ environment could help. He made his case to owner Mark Davis and interim general manager Champ Kelly.

“I told Mr. Davis and Champ, this is a guy that just needs some love and maturity,” Pierce said. “He needs a good locker room around him, which we have.”

The ace up the Raiders’ sleeve was Pierce and the relationship he built with Jones in high school and college. Jones said Pierce is “like a father figure” that “means everything to me.”

Jones did not have that sort of role model in New England. He was solid as a rookie last season but wore out his welcome with numerous off-field incidents.

He was suspended by the Patriots while he was on injured reserve at one point late in the year for reportedly being late to a rehab session. He was also arrested at Boston’s Logan Airport in June on gun charges. Those were later dropped after he agreed to a settlement with the Suffolk County district attorney’s office in September.

Jones was arrested in 2018 as well for allegedly breaking into a Panda Express in California. He later pled guilty to commercial burglary.

Jones’ lack of reliability on and off the field led to reduced playing time his final days in New England. It ultimately cost him his spot on the team.

Reconnecting with Pierce and coming out west appear to have stabilized Jones. He’s embraced his past issues and pledged to take advantage of this chance to rekindle his career.

The Raiders opened up a starting spot for Jones almost as soon as he arrived by waiving veteran Marcus Peters. The newcomer responded with two solid games, including an impressive performance Thursday. Jones made five tackles in addition to scoring his touchdown.

The interception showed off his instincts and ability to decipher an offense. He recognized the Chargers were throwing a screen as soon as they lined up.

Jones broke into the Los Angeles backfield at the snap and plucked the ball from the air with one hand. His short scamper for a score showed the kind of talent the Raiders have added to the mix.

“I don’t think any good defense, anybody who makes it far in the playoffs in this league who’s considered to have a dominant or really good defense, they don’t not have a player like that,” cornerback Nate Hobbs said. “Someone who’s just going to act instinctively and go.”

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on X.

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