Tony Jones Jr.’s journey leads to perfect birthday gift in Saints win

Published 11:16 am Thursday, September 21, 2023

By John DeShazier

New Orleans Saints

Tony Jones Jr.  doesn’t romanticize a four-year NFL journey that has seen him play running back for the New Orleans Saints (2020-22), Seattle Seahawks (2022), Denver Broncos (2023, practice squad) and Saints again (2023).

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“My journey, I’m a journeyman,” Jones said. “I’ve been on three teams in the last 12 months.”

But the journey made a couple of stops in the end zone Monday night against Carolina, in a 20-17 Saints victory at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., to help the Saints improve to 2-0 for the first time since 2013.

They were the first two touchdowns of Jones’ NFL career, and immediately he knew how he would celebrate them.

The first touchdown ball – a 2-yard run with 2:56 left in the third quarter, giving New Orleans a 13-6 lead – would go to his wife, Becca, as he delivered on a promise. Because Becca would celebrate her birthday the next day, Tuesday.

“He had mentioned before the game, he was like, ‘I’m gonna get you a birthday touchdown run,'” she said through a smile that almost was audible. “I was like, ‘OK, that would be awesome.’ So he had mentioned it. I definitely knew at least one of them was for me.”

The second one, Tony said, which occurred on a 2-yard run with 3:14 left in the game and gave the Saints a 20-9 lead, also had a specific assignment.

“That second one, that’s mine,” he said.

But it very well could have been dedicated to their unborn child that Becca is carrying, as her pregnancy reached five months, to the day, on Monday.

Amid the two significant milestones, Jones played the best game of his 20-game career, helping pick up the slack when running back Jamaal Williams exited the game with a hamstring injury in the second quarter by providing New Orleans its first rushing touchdowns of the season.

Jones and Williams were the only Saints running backs active for the game.

“Coach told us before the game, the team is going to have to run through the trenches, and we did,” Jones said. “Our line was pushing them off the line three yards, four yards, it doesn’t matter.

“I didn’t even know it was just going to be just me and (Jamaal), to be honest. Coach had us out there running drills and I was like, ‘Dang, it’s going to be two of us.’ You’ve got to fight through it, man, that’s all you’ve got to do.”

Fighting through has been what Jones’ career has been about. He finished the game with 12 carries for 34 yards, the second-most carries he has had in his career; he carried 16 times against Buffalo on Nov. 25, 2021.

Fighting through to the end zone released a flood of emotion for him and Becca.

“So many emotions,” she said. “I was so proud and I think, kind of seeing all that he’s been through just kind of flashing through my eyes. It definitely made me super emotional. Just so proud. So proud, and happy for him.

“It’s definitely been a ride. I feel like that’s the best word to describe it. There’s a lot of highs and a lot of lows that people don’t see. They just see these guys on the field, but it’s more than just during the season. They put a lot of work in. It all comes together and just being there supporting him through those lows, and also being joyful during those highs is super important.”

Jones said after the game that Becca, whom he began dating his senior year in high school, has been critical to helping him sustain his career.

“There are days I wanted to quit, but she’s my rock,” he said. “Without her, I don’t know where I would be.”

Hearing that, Becca said, brings tears to her eyes.

“I’m already emotional, being pregnant,” she said. “So much joy, that’s the best word. It’s just the best feeling to know that. I feel like, like I keep saying, there’s a lot that goes into it but just thinking that I contributed – the things that I do on the day, even if they’re small, they matter.”

Those things, Jones said, helped him be ready Monday night when the Saints needed him. And they likely again will count on him Sunday against Green Bay – Coach Dennis Allen said Williams likely will miss time, though rookie running back Kendre Miller could make his regular-season debut after dealing with his own hamstring injury.

“He’s definitely prepared,” Becca said of Jones. “He puts in a lot of work that is not seen by everybody, and I always tell him, ‘You never know when your number is going to be called, so you just have to be ready.’

“He’s been ready, he’s never not been ready and he proved it (Monday) night. He knows he’s got some things coming up and he’s definitely prepared and ready for it.”

RB ROOM: As mentioned previously, Allen said Williams likely will miss time and Miller possibly will play Sunday. Miller, Allen said, likely could have played Monday night. “I think probably physically he could have played,” Allen said. “That was a more a decision on my part, that a rookie player that wasn’t able to fully participate in practice during the week, I just didn’t feel like that was the right thing for our team to put him in the game. So it was more a decision on my part to hold him. I expect him to be pretty much full go this week. I would expect that there’s a good chance we’ll see him this week.”