First TD caps road to recovery for Lions' TJ Jones

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

TJ Jones looked at the official in front of him after he caught a 29-yard pass Sunday. The ref didn’t make a signal, so Jones looked to his left where he saw another official indicate he’d scored.

Lions' TJ Jones celebrates his touchdown in the first quarter.

“I was like, ‘Oh yeah, touchdown!’” Jones said after the win over the 49ers. “I really had no idea I was in the end zone. I was hoping, but I wasn’t sure until I saw him.”

Then, to celebrate the first score of his young career, Jones wagged his finger, perhaps a reminder to two San Francisco defenders, who tried to knock the ball free, that he wasn’t letting go.

After the score, Jones returned to the bench where several teammates greeted him, including tight end Eric Ebron and defensive end Devin Taylor. Jones said his teammates were glad the Lions took the lead early in the second quarter, but also glad to see him score for the first time after missing his entire rookie year.

“Everybody knows the long road it’s been,” Jones said.

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A sixth-round pick in 2014, Jones underwent what was supposed to be minor shoulder surgery in June, but a nerve issue kept him on the physically unable to perform list all season.

An impressive performance in the 2015 preseason helped Jones make the roster as the first receiver. He was inactive for the first two games, made his first catch in Week 5, but was inactive again from Weeks 8 through 12.

In the past four games, though, Jones has been a reliable option in the passing game, and his 29-yard touchdown catch proved he can make plays in traffic.

Jones has nine catches for 121 yards the past four games with at least 22 receiving yards in each game. He also leapfrogged Corey Fuller and is now the No. 4 receiver, helping reward the Lions’ patience with him after that nerve injury.

“It’s one where he had to kind of hang in there, and really what he was dealing with was something that you really can’t put a time limit on,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “Sometimes it’s quick, sometimes it takes a long time, but he was able to hang in there, didn’t get frustrated. And when he had the opportunity to kind of show what he can do, you could really see his skill level is pretty unique.”

The 6-foot, 190-pound Jones is capable of playing inside and outside, and he ran a 4.48-second 40-yard dash at the combine. Caldwell said he’s seen steady progress from Jones this year.

“He’s really got a huge upside when you look at him,” the coach said.

And as much as he appreciated some support from his teammates, Jones was sure to show some love to the man who assisted on the score, saying quarterback Matthew Stafford threw a perfect pass.

“(He) couldn’t have placed it anywhere else with the way I got hit, but I just held on for dear life and knew that if I kept it that it was going to be my first touchdown. So, definitely happy.”