Few punters enjoy the level of fanfare that surrounded Donnie Jones during his five seasons with the Eagles, but he wasn’t always a star.
When Jones signed with the Eagles in 2013, he was just another anonymous free-agent punter. He wouldn’t come to be known as “Donnie Longball” until later that year.
Jones’ rise in popularity began Week 11 against Washington with a 70-yard punt that likely saved the Eagles from a humiliating defeat.
Despite amassing a 24-0 lead after three quarters, the Eagles were running out of gas. Washington scored back-to-back touchdowns to cut the deficit to eight in the fourth quarter, then forced a three-and-out to get the ball back with over three minutes remaining. Another score felt inevitable.
The ensuing punt pinned Washington’s offense at its own 4-yard line, giving a fatigued Eagles defense the margin for error it so desperately needed to close out the win. The drive came within 18 yards of the end zone, where finally Fletcher Cox pressured Robert Griffin III into an ill-advised throw intercepted by Brandon Boykin with 24 seconds remaining.
Jones finished with six punts for 50.7 yards per attempt — a season high. Four of his kicks were downed inside Washington’s 20-yard line, including the bomb at the end to help secure an Eagles victory.
Maybe the Eagles would’ve won without a 70-yard punt. Maybe they wouldn’t have. Either way, Jones could’ve revealed in his 15 minutes of fame, then faded back into relative obscurity, like a lot of specialists.
Except Jones outdid himself in the Eagles’ very next game coming off of a bye week.
If Jones played an exceptional game against Washington, his efforts could be described only as Herculean vs. the Cardinals. And if he was merely one of a handful of heroes in the previous win, he was legitimately the most valuable player the following contest.
The Eagles called upon Jones to punt eight times against the Cardinals, including five straight possessions at one point in the second half. Of those punts, seven were downed inside the opposing 20 — the NFL record is eight — with a 44.3 average and a long of 69.
The Eagles edged the Cardinals by three, 24-21. It wasn’t just one memorable kick. Each time Jones stepped on the field was pivotal.
In those two games alone, Jones pinned 11 of 14 punts inside the opponents’ 20 with a 46.8 average. His kicks totaled 655 yards compared to just three return yards. With that performance, he became the fourth punter in NFL history to win Special Teams Player of the Week in consecutive games and the first since 1999.
Jones became an instant Eagles legend in the process.
It didn’t hurt Jones was the first quality punter the franchise had in years. He remained a model of consistency for the remainder of his Eagles tenure. There also aren't a whole lot at that position — for any team — who ever made quite that level of impact in one game, let alone two.
Jones earned his reputation, he earned his place as an Eagles great, and it’s not at all far-fetched to suggest there might never be another punter as beloved and embraced.