- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 20, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

As the Washington Redskins ran into their locker room, whooping and hollering following their 24-10 win over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday at FedEx Field, general manager Scot McCloughan stood by the wall across from the locker room door, fist bumping and high-fiving his players.

When Matt Jones ran by, McCloughan grabbed him, and then Jones hugged the man who had made Jones and his mother cry.

It was a shared moment of emotion and belief between the two as they celebrated the 123-yard, two-touchdown performance for the former Florida running back who McCloughan drafted in the third round in May.

“I trusted in the Redskins,” said Jones, the star of the game, whose performance was punctuated by a first-quarter, 39-yard touchdown run that put Washington ahead, 7-0 — a lead it never relinquished.

“They told me the whole time they were going to draft me in the third round, and that’s what they did,” Jones said. “I always had high hopes of being a Redskin. I always wanted the pound the rock, and that’s what I did today.”

The 6-foot-2, 230-pound running back pounded the rock with the kind of speed and authority that McCloughan envisioned when he drafted him in the third round.

Matt Jones is going to hit you, and hit you, until you get tired of tackling him,” McCloughan said following the draft. “Matt Jones reminds me a lot — a lot — of Marshawn [Lynch] from the standpoint that he’s north-south, he’s downhill and he’s not afraid of contact.”

McCloughan knows of what he speaks. He was with the Seattle Seahawks when they traded for Lynch in 2010.

St. Louis tried to tackle Jones 19 times on Sunday, and it cost them an average of 6.5 yards every time Jones ran the ball. That’s Lynch-like, for certain.

It certainly made Kirk Cousins life easier, as the Redskins‘ quarterback, with the threat of Jones carrying the ball, connected on 23 of 27 passes for 203 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.

“He’s just a very, very, big, strong physical running back who can run downhill and play with confidence,” Cousins said.

Jones wasn’t always so strong. He was damaged goods in 2013, missing much of his sophomore season after a left knee injury needed two surgeries. That injury followed a serious viral infection that put Jones in the hospital for eight days. Jones returned for his junior year in 2014 to rush for 817 yards and scored six touchdowns.

“I could have been out of football my sophomore year when I got hurt and got sick,” Jones said. “I could have been done. When I look back and see where I am now, it’s amazing how God works.”

When he got the call from McCloughan, there was an emotional burst within the Jones family.

“We were sitting there, and when I got that call, man, it was just like my heart and I just was sinking into my couch, man,” Jones said in a July, according to the Redskins‘ web site. “Just seeing my momma so happy, it almost made me cry, man. Well, it did make me cry, man. I was just so happy. I’ve never seen her so much excited in my life, man.”

Redskins fans have been anticipating the full-fledged regular season unveiling of Jones after what they saw from him in preseason. Alfred Morris rushed for 121 yards in the 17-10 loss to Miami, but Sunday, he carried the ball 18 times — nearly as many times as Jones — but ran up 59 yards, an average of 3.3 yards.

After the game, Jones was deferential to Morris.

“I was feeding off Alfred Morris today and his energy,” he said. “Every good run he had, I learn from him each and every day, each and every game. We had good energy today to run the ball.”

Jones was being kind. He was the one who energized the Redskins‘ offense with a burst like he showed the Rams on that 39-yard touchdown run. It was like the burst of emotion McCloughan and Jones shared Sunday in the tunnel at FedEx Field.

• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.

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