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Adam Jones

Adam Jones has watched the Andre Johnson play four times, but it might as well be 4,000. He saw it again Tuesday for the first time in nearly a year, but it might as well have been last Tuesday.

"I've been using that for motivation the whole year," Jones said before Tuesday's practice. "That whole game, I was just screwed up, no excuses. I'll be ready this time."

If there's a mindset that captures how the Bengals are going into Saturday's Wild Card Reshuffle (4:30 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5), it is the one that belongs to Jones. If there is a measuring stick that shows how far they've come in a year since the 31-10 loss in Reliant Stadium, it is Jones's rock-solid season as the third cornerback. If there is a sequence that shows just how close playoff football is, it is capped by the play where Johnson buckled Jones into the offseason with a double-move and a 40-yard touchdown catch from rookie quarterback T.J. Yates that blew it all open for a 24-10 lead with 1:08 left in the third quarter.

"Horrible," Jones said Tuesday, the old sore open. "It's all technique and eyes. I'm not going to let it happen."

To review:

A few snaps earlier, with 2:32 left in the third quarter, safety Chris Crocker looked like he was going to change the game when Yates threw a ball at him that was intended for tight end Owen Daniels over the middle. With Crocker flying up the field for what looked like could have been a pick-six to tie it at 17, he dropped it.

Then Johnson barely converted a third down with a juggling catch over the middle he nearly dropped at the sticks.

Then two snaps later …

When Jones re-upped for another year back in March, it was all he could talk about.

"I couldn't sleep for a couple of weeks after that game; that double-move," Jones said back then. "I know what I did. I knew what I did wrong with my technique. I took my eyes off him. I've been going over it ever since."

On that third-down play, Jones had limped off the field with a foot injury and when he came back on, the Texans went right at him. But Jones has never used it as an excuse.

Only motivation.

"He's a guy who last year wasn't happy with his performance in the playoffs," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "That's driven him all year long. That's good. You've got to tip your hat to him. I'm proud of how he's done things."

This is how well Jones has done them. At least according to Pro Football Focus, the Web site that grades every play. For his 608 snaps, it rates Jones the NFL's 11th-best overall cornerback. And it has him rated seventh in pass coverage, which is telling for a guy on the field most of the time on third down. PFF has him for allowing just two touchdown passes on a defense that has allowed the third-fewest TD passes in the league with 16.

Solid. Just ask the man he replaced in Houston last year, Leon Hall.

"Depending on the situation, obviously, we have some blitzes and stuff and really in our defense in general there's a lot of one-on-ones," Hall said. "Especially on that right side in the nickel package. Single man-to-man and he's done well."

You know Jones is playing well because defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer keeps putting him out there after the hard emotions that ensued following what happened last year in Houston. Yet Jones vowed to harness his volcanic emotion if he came back and it has gone a long way in corralling his ample ability.

"I thought he played one of his best games last week," Lewis said. "He had his best week of preparation and practice. He's focused. He's got an edge to him that's hard to change overnight. We try to make him understand when things come out of his mouth, he's meaning one way, but it sounds the other."

Jones means well when it comes to his passion for winning games. Just go back two weeks ago in Pittsburgh and the killing 60-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Antonio Brown streaking past Jones, the ultimate no-no in a two-minute drill.

It turns out Jones wasn't the only one with a problem on that snap, but there were no explosions of emotion for the camera like there had been in Houston. It was hashed out on the sidelines and the nickel package went out and finished off a brilliant 12-for-14 effort on third down that put the Bengals back in Houston.

How good has Jones been? In December, when the Bengals absolutely had to have it in the nickel, they have forced opponents to go just 32 percent on third down at 25-for-77.

"It was a combination of stuff on that play that we were mixed up on," Hall said. "We had quite a few things go wrong. He knew the situation and he came back and he played fine. In a career as a corner, that happens.

"I'm sure he's kind of like I am. You've seen the play enough. You know the play. You're not going to let it bring you down. You basically put it in your memory bank. If something is about to happen in the game and you feel the same formation, the same situation, you play it a little better."

Hall knows it because he's gotten to know Jones better this year during Jones's third season with the team. If Jones is the emotional, heart-on-your-sleeve player from Hotlanta, Hall is the cool SoCal even-keel cat.

"What do they say? Opposites attract and it's true," Hall said. "There's nothing wrong with being an emotional guy. Sometimes it hurts you, sometimes it helps you. Just like any other personality in this locker room, to be quite honest.

"He's actually pretty cool, laid back. Maybe that's why I get along with him so well. As much as people may think he's a fireball, a little ball of energy, he is, but he also is laid back."

They both live on Cincinnati's east side and they've driven down to the stadium a few times together.

"Don't tell them where we live," Jones said with a laugh, easy with his role, "or they'll come knocking on my door asking where Leon lives."

If his teammates know him better, Jones knows them and the coaches better and it's a comfortable fit for him after overcoming so much off the field. The star of last summer's NFL Rookies Symposium has continued to show the kids how to do it. Almost every week, some rookie on the other team approaches him to say he remembered his talk on what not to do.

"I'm just trying to answer when I'm called, play my role," Jones said. "They believed in me here. The owners, Coach Lew."

Lewis also thinks the addition of veteran cornerbacks Terence Newman and Jason Allen in free agency fueled Jones during training camp in that roster melee with six first-round corners.

"He can count," Lewis said.

Overcoming his injuries hasn't been nearly as gripping as his off-the-field comeback, but it's probably been just as important. For the first time in Jones's career this season he played all 16 games.

"Blessed to be healthy. My body is holding up and that means a lot, too," he said.

And we haven't even touched on punt returns yet. He finished seventh in the NFL and he goes against a Houston team that finished 20th covering punts while giving up a touchdown. Jones has one, too, as well as that 60-plus yarder in Pittsburgh that got washed out because of a penalty.

He knows what one of those would mean now.

"During this time of the season, those are the kind of plays that win games or make a difference in winning or losing," Jones said. "I'm just going to play my game, let the game come to me and see if I can answer when my name is called."

Lewis has a plan.

"Every time I upset him, he returns a kick for a big play," Lewis said with a smile. "I think I'll tell him he's not going to play."

Anything not to feel like he did a year ago.

"I don't want to feel like that ever again," Jones said.

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