As the old saying goes, all good things must come to an end. Preparing for life after Tom Brady was always going to be a struggle for the New England Patriots as it’s impossible to replace the irreplaceable. Last season was only the third time since 2000 that the Patriots failed to qualify for the playoffs, and Bill Belichick knew changes had to be made. They were extremely active in free agency, breaking the NFL record for most guaranteed money handed out to free agents – a massive $163 million. New England signed 10 new players: tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith, wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, defensive backs Jalen Mills and Cody Davis, linebackers Matthew Judon and Kyle Van Noy, defensive linemen Deatrich Wise Jr and Henry Anderson, and offensive lineman Ted Karras.
While these new faces certainly provided Patriots fans with plenty to be excited about, there was one new player that has garnered more attention than the rest – new quarterback and 15th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Mac Jones. When Cam Newton was cut in preseason, it became clear that Jones would be the Patriots signal caller moving forward, and a new era in New England was officially ushered in. The bookies currently have the Patriots over/under win total at 8.5 games for this season, which would represent a slight improvement on last year – you can find more odds on this list of sites at Compare.bet.
How have the Patriots fared so far?
Heading into week eight, the Patriots are 3-4, with losses against the Miami Dolphins, the New Orleans Saints, Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys, and wins against the New York Jets (twice) and Houston Texans. Given the huge outlay in free agency, it’s fair to say most Patriots fans would have expected a slightly better start, but they’ve been competitive in every game, and there’s still plenty of positives to take from their first seven games. Matt Judon’s performances have been a real bright spot for the Patriots this season, totaling 6.5 sacks and a recovered fumble already. Running back Damien Harris has shown he can be a franchise RB1 in New England with 437 yards and 5 touchdowns and fan favorite slot receiver Jakobi Meyers has shown he is continuing to improve.
After the loss to the Cowboys, special teamer Justin Bethel said: “I think we are a good team. I think we’re a good team with a bad record right now. There haven’t been games where we’re not in the running. We’re always one play here, one play there. We’ve just got to keep working, go back to work this week, and find a way to win those close games.” In the lead up to this weekend’s matchup against the Jets, tight end Jonnu Smith echoed this sentiment when he said: “We’re 2-4, but we know we’re not a 2-4 team.”
How has Mac Jones performed?
Mac Jones split the NFL Draft community and was seen as a divisive player heading into the draft. His stats in his final season at Alabama were undeniably sensational, throwing for 4,500 yards, 41 touchdowns, and just four interceptions in their National Championship winning side. He shone when the lights were at their brightest too, throwing for 464 yards and five touchdowns in the College Football Playoff National Championship game against Ohio State. He took home the Davey O’Brien, Johnny Unitas Golden Arm, and Manning Awards and finished third in Heisman voting. However, many were sceptical of Jones’ ability, noting that he had by far the best weapons in college football in Heisman winner and 10th overall pick Devonta Smith and sixth overall pick Jaylen Waddle as his top two receivers and 24th overall pick Najee Harris sharing the backfield with Jones.
Still, the Patriots saw something in Jones and he has performed well at times so far this season, but still had the kind of growing pains you’d expect from a rookie quarterback. He’s thrown for seven touchdowns to six interceptions in his first six starts, which certainly could be better, but in comparison to his fellow rookie quarterbacks, the stats suggest he’s been the best of the group so far. Jones stands at 20th in the league in passing efficiency rating, with a score of 89.6, while the Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s is 75.5, the Texans’ Davis Mills is 73.2, the Bears’ Justin Fields is 67.4 and the Jets’ Zach Wilson is 62.9. The third overall pick Trey Lance hasn’t played enough snaps to qualify for the rankings. Jones’ 71% completion percentage is exceptional, and he has shown is more than capable of executing the game plan and being a solid game manager, but Patriots fans will be hoping as the season goes on he shows that he is capable of creating big plays downfield as well as completing a high number of short passes. Vegas currently has him as second favourite in the Offensive Rookie of the Year award with odds of +400 behind Bengals wide receiver Jamarr Chase at +250.
What are their chances?
After Jones’ week one performance against the Dolphins, NFL analyst Daniel Jeremiah said he played “fast [and] with conviction” and that “he trusts what he sees and there is no hesitation. That’s very unique for a rookie QB.” Long term analyst and Twitter favourite Brian Baldinger recently said that Jones “has everything you are looking for in a top-flight QB. His composure and accuracy are beyond reproach.”
It’s clear that Jones has impressed in his early starts, and the Patriots have shown they can still make their way past 9.5 wins where Vegas had them in preseason as he continues to improve. They are expected to defeat the Jets this weekend, which could springboard them into a playoff run. They still have some tough games ahead, with the Chargers, Browns, Titans and the Bills (twice) left on their schedule, so they will require Jones’ development to continue and Bill Belichick’s vaunted defensive scheme to power them to a winning record.
More Patriots News Headlines: