By: Will Burchfield
Marvin Jones smiled and glanced around the locker room, searching for a teammate to back him up.
“You can ask everybody, I do it all the time in practice,” Jones said. “I don’t know why, but I’m just kind of a late-hands type of guy.”
As if anyone would doubt him.
Jones made the amazing look routine yet again in the Lions’ win over the Bears on Saturday when he caught up to a 60-yard heave by Matthew Stafford, leapt into the air, hovered for a moment and then snatched the ball away from an unsuspecting safety.
It was as impressive a catch as you’ll see, the combination of speed, athleticism, body control and hand-eye coordination all rolled into one. And maybe most notably, harmony with the quarterback.
When Jones saw Matthew Stafford scramble out of the pocket, he threw up his hand. At the same time, Stafford gestured to Jones. The message? Go long.
“I raise my hand, I see his eyes and I just take off,” Jones said.
Stafford uncorked a bomb downfield. It looked like an easy interception for safety Eddie Jackson at first, but Jones, running diagonally from left to right, quickly closed the gap.
“Just go get the ball,” he was thinking to himself.
He arrived in time, but left his feet too soon. His excitement, he said, got the best of him. Heck, the stadium was shaking.
No problem. Jones hung in the air at the apex of his jump and then threw up his long arms at the last second and came down with the ball. Just like he does in practice.
“I just had to stay up there for a little bit,” he said, casually dismissing gravity.
The play, a 58-yard gain that set up the Lions’ first touchdown of the game, was evidence of the chemistry that has developed this year between Jones and Stafford.
“For him to have that trust in me to throw it up there and (know) I’m gonna get it 100 percent of the time, that’s a great feeling,” said Jones.
Remind you of someone?
Jones arrived in 2016 in the wake of Calvin Johnson’s retirement. That wasn’t by coincidence. The Lions had lost their deep threat and needed a new one. No one expected Jones to entirely fill the void of one of the greatest players in franchise history, but in year two he’s coming pretty darn close.
Through 14 games, Jones is tied for seventh in the NFL in catches of at least 20 yards (18), tied for fifth in catches of at least 40 yards (5), and second in yards per reception (18). He also has eight touchdowns, and only five receivers have more.
In Johnson’s final three seasons with the Lions, one of which earned him a first team All-Pro selection (2013), he averaged 18 catches of at least 20 yards, 3.7 catches of at least 40 yards, 15.6 yards per reception and a shade under 10 touchdowns.
As far as deep threats go, Jones, in his second year in Detroit, has been every bit Megatron’s equal.
“He’s doing a nice job of winning those 50-50 balls,” Stafford said. “Calvin was a different body build, probably a higher jumper, bigger guy, more physical. But Marv’s body control is pretty incredible.”
Jones left Cincinnati and his close friend A.J. Green in search of more opportunity. He wanted to assume a bigger role on a new team. He wanted to feel responsible for helping that team win.
In his first year with the Lions, Jones got off to a scorching start but faded in the second half. The team missed him down the stretch, losing its final three regular season games and getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs. Jones vowed to improve.
He worked tirelessly with Randy Moss in the offseason, particularly on attacking balls in the air. At one point Moss told Jones he’s one of the best to do it in the NFL.
Moss added, “So why don’t you do it?”
Jones has answered the challenge.
“Marv’s put a lot of work in,” said Stafford. “I think our system and the system he came from in Cincinnati are quite a bit different, and he did a great job of adjusting. And then on Sundays he just goes out there and makes plays.
“I’m giving him chances on certain throws, and he’s going up and making me right more often than not.”
Remind you of someone?
Jones said his rapport with Stafford has blossomed in their second year together. He first felt it during OTAs and training camp and it’s grown stronger as the season has progressed. The two are almost always on the same page, even when plays break down and they’re forced to improvise.
Stafford didn’t throw that pass on Saturday to Jones, not even close. He threw it to where he knew Jones would be.
“That’s what comes with experience with each other,” said Jones.
Jones is 30 receiving yards away from his first 1,000-yard season. He was named a Pro Bowl alternate on Tuesday. He might not stuff the stat sheet like Johnson did in his prime — Jim Bob Cooter’s offense wouldn’t allow it, anyway — but he’s checking the boxes the Lions need.
Plus, it was never his intention to replace Megatron.
“I said that when I came here. I said that’s far from my mind. I’m not the type of guy that feels pressure,” Jones said. “I’m here for a reason and I’m gonna do what I do.”
Jones, who will make his return to Cincinnati on Sunday, still has a group chat with a few of his former wide receiver comrades: Green, Mohamed Sanu and Andrew Hawkins. After one of them has a big game, the chat tends to get peppered with messages.
What did Green, Sanu and Hawkins say about Jones’ catch on Saturday?
“They said it was crazy,” said Jones with a smile. “They said, ‘There he go again.'”