Published November 20, 2014
Green Bay Packers wide receiver James Jones knows the importance of making the most of his opportunities in the team's high-powered passing game.
After his fourth-quarter fumble led to Green Bay's 20-17 loss at Chicago on Monday night, the fourth-year player knew he'd let a big opportunity slip away.
But with that many playmakers, competition for the ball is fierce, and mistakes such as the one Jones made don't help his cause.
Entering Sunday's home game against Detroit, Jones has been targeted for 15 passes, catching 10 of them for 97 yards and a touchdown. Only Driver (23), Jennings (21) and Finley (21) have had more passes thrown their way. Jones has been targeted more than No. 4 receiver Jordy Nelson (eight).
Now he must atone for his mistake to make sure he keeps getting the ball.
When the Packers did their daily ball security drill Wednesday, Jones was first in line. When they did the drill again on Thursday, Jones took extra turns to make sure his coaches and teammates knew he wasn't going to cost them another game.
"I felt bad. I felt like I let my teammates down. I felt like I wanted to cry," Jones said of his fumble at midfield with 2 minutes, 18 seconds left in a 17-17 game. "I (was) the first one jumping in there (because) I just wanted to let them know that I'm not taking this lightly. It hurt me as much as it hurt them, if not more, that I let that ball go.
"But you go through ups and downs in your career, and you just have to go out there this weekend and make the most of your chances."
Jones said he forgot to switch the ball to his right hand as he ran up the right sideline in front of the Packers' bench.
The catch was his fifth of the night and he'd made a nifty move to elude Bears cornerback Tim Jennings after the reception on the play.
"I thought he did a great job early in the game. I thought he did some good things," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "Again, it's disappointing. If I'm running to my right and the sideline's to my right, the ball should be over here (in my right arm). It's kind of a Football 101 thing. (But) I'm confident he'll be fine."
Jones had seven passes thrown his way against Buffalo on Sept. 19, but only had three receptions for 32 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown. His fellow receivers needled him for not making the most of his opportunities. Twice he ran poor patterns that caused incompletions, including one when he caught the ball but came down out of bounds.
"You just need to spend five minutes in the meeting room to clearly understand that if you have an opportunity, you'd better cash in on it, because if you don't, that means you've taken an opportunity away from Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley, Donald Driver or somebody else in that room," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
"It's very competitive," he said. "They're a very close group. So I think it really speaks volumes for any of the younger players who are given more opportunities this year as opposed to the past, and James would definitely fall into that category."
Jones knows his opportunities are precious. Last season, Jones ranked fifth on the team in receptions (32) and fourth in yards receiving (440), and tied for second in touchdown receptions with five. He added three catches for 50 yards and a touchdown in a playoff loss at Arizona.
After a strong training camp, coaches felt Jones was poised to raise his game this season. How he bounces back from Monday's gaffe will go a long way toward showing whether or not that will happen.
"I tried to talk to him a lot after the game about, 'Hey, what's done is done, let's learn from it. Take it constructively and let's make sure it doesn't happen again,'" receivers coach Jimmy Robinson said. "If you make plays on a more consistent basis, then yeah, you've raised your game up to where it needs to be. It's not far from there. But there's work to do."