Adam Jones is bidding to become the third Bengal to win an NFL punt return title, and the last one to do it hopes he gets there.
But Mike Martin has some advice looking back on his 15.7-yard average of 28 years ago in that presidential fall of 1984 when Reagan won a second term in the first year of head coach Sam Wyche's own eight-year run.
"He just has to be more consistent," Martin said Monday, now a Cincinnati restaurateur. "He's fun to watch. No question. A very exciting player. It's just after he pops a big one, he runs in circles sometimes. That's all it is is consistency."
According to Elias Sports Bureau, not even Martin and Lemar Parrish, who won his title a decade earlier with an 18.8-yard average, have done what Jones has done this season with two punt returns of at least 68 yards in the same season. The only Bengal to do that before Jones was Craig Yeast in 1999.
Jones, who had an 81-yarder for a touchdown in the first two minutes of the home opener, got the people to their seats in a hurry again four minutes into Sunday's game against the Giants. After stepping out of a tackle, he broke another as he veered left across the field to the other sideline for a 68-yarder to set up Cincinnati's 14-0 lead that never buckled in the 31-13 victory.
It didn't even upset Jones that it was punter Steve Weatherford that slowed him down at the Giants 11.
"Oh yeah," Jones said when asked if his teammates had given him grief. "As long as we scored. If we hadn't scored, I'd probably been hot."
Jones says never ask him right after the game how he did it because he can't say until he watches film. But he pretty much had this one right on.
"It was the right call," Jones said of his decision to reverse field after he got out of the tackle on the right with a Dancing With The Stars spin. "The initial call was right. If that guy that grabbed me is not there, I'm still going the right way. But he leaked out. That's what caused me to go back the other way."
Jones's average of 17 yards per, which trails only the 19.5 of Buffalo's Leodis McKelvin, barely qualifies for the NFL leaders because he has only 12 returns. A returner has to average 1.25 returns per team game to qualify for the rankings. Jones is currently at 1.33 and needs at least one return in Kansas City this Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) to stay in the rankings.
With Jones taking a lot of snaps at cornerback in nickel situations, he's been rotating with wide receiver
Tate has 13 returns, is 10th with a 10.2 average, and is coming off a season he set the club records with 51 returns and 543 yards. He has 64 career punt returns as a Bengal, qualifying for the team’s all-time career rankings, which he leads at 10.6, ahead of second-place Quan Cosby at 10.0. Martin is third on the list at 9.9, but his 140 returns and 1,381 yards look safe as team records for a while.
"My thing was just being consistent," said Martin, whose longest return in '84 was 55 yards. "Get it north and south as fast as possible and get on the ground with the ball. I don't think I ever lost a yard returning a punt. You can fall down and get two or three."
They may have different styles, but it sounds like Martin and Jones have the same mindset. Heading into the '84 season finale against the Bills, Martin had his 20 returns to qualify for the title. When people suggested he simply call for fair catches all day and not risk the title, Martin acted like Ted Williams in 1941 and refused to sit on .400.
"I wasn't going to get it that way," Martin said. "I told them I was going to get my team in the best possible field position in order to win the game. And I think I actually added to my average."
While Williams went 6-for-8, Martin had no fair catches and returned four for 89 yards. He was true to his word. With the Bengals trailing, 7-0, after the first drive, Martin nearly broke one and went 32 yards to the Bills 15 to set up the tying TD and the Bengals were on their way to a 52-21 win.
Same mindset. Told it appeared as if he had toyed with the Giants and set them up by slowing it down, Jones said, "It's always pretty much in slow motion, but I never remember it. I'm just trying to run to the open space."
He figures to get a shot Sunday. Jones says the calf injury he suffered Sunday near the end of the game won't keep him out of practice Wednesday.