CHARLOTTE – Six times the Panthers punted in Atlanta.
While that may be more often than the coaching staff would like – win or lose – it does come with the positive note that four of Andy Lee's punts were downed inside the 10-yard line, and three pinned the Falcons within two yards of their own goal line.
The first of those incredible field-flipping boots was downed by safety Colin Jones, who uses his blazing speed to wreak havoc on all four return units.
How quick is Jones? He ran a 10.39-second 100 meters. In high school.
"I've just been very blessed to be very fast," Jones said Monday night on Panther Talk.
He and cornerback Robert McClain, who downed the other two punts inside the 2-yard line, helped hold returner Eric Weems, who averages 17.1 yards per punt return, to 25 yards total on his three returns.
"I thought we took a step forward as a special teams unit," Jones said. "We had a lot of good plays as a team and helped set up some long fields for their offense."
Lee is tied for the NFL lead with 51.1 yards per punt, but credit for his strong start goes to Jones and Co. Lee's 42.3-yard net average ranks ninth in the league, and his punts paired with the Panthers' coverage have pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line on more than half their attempts. Just four other punters can claim the same.
Even without looking at the stats, Jones knows that special teams are an integral part of a game.
"It can be a big turning point in the football game when you make a play on special teams, like last week against Minnesota, negatively against us," Jones said. "It just deflates a team when you give up a big play, but on the flip side, it can ignite a team as well when you go down there and make a play and turn the game around."
In addition to his special teams play, Jones also received Sunday's starting position at free safety, his first start since Week 13 in New Orleans a season ago.
"We wanted to start off a little bit by throwing Colin Jones out there," head coach Ron Rivera said during his Monday press conference. "Colin's an athletic guy that runs around very fast and defensively does a nice job. We wanted to give him the opportunity to be out there."
From what Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott have seen in practice – and on special teams – they knew that Jones earned his time on the defensive team. "I love the toughness in Colin Jones, a guy that does things the right way," McDermott said. "Colin is a guy that earns the right every week to play the way he does on special teams. He's of high-character toughness, and I'll take those guys every day of the week."