Home games tend to be a place where a team usually has an advantage but it’s probably safe to say for New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones, no where is really safe for him right now.
Oddly enough, this past Sunday at MetLife Stadium was probably as comfortable as Jones has felt over the last 10 days. That’s where the young quarterback tried again to get back on track just six days removed from a performance that he likely wanted to forget for a variety of reasons.
In his previous outing on a cold drizzly night at Gillette Stadium, Jones went out on a cold wet field on his sore left ankle for the first time in over a month and faced a tenacious Chicago Bears defense that flushed him out on most of the 16 snaps he took, forcing him to move around while knowing he was hampered.
Jones surprised most by using his legs to move the football, rushing for 24-yards on 3 carries. But when forced to move to his left, which was the ankle he was favoring, that’s where Jones ultimately faltered and went down which, fortunately, only happened on one play in that game.
However, it was clear that all wasn’t well and Chicago took advantage.
In a game where the goal was to shake off the rust and get settled back in, the exact opposite happened. Instead, the Bears kept coming on each play and the Patriots’ offensive line struggled to open up anything in the ground game to take any of that pressure off. Chicago knew that Jones wasn’t healthy and they had made it clear during the week that getting to him would be the key to their success that night.
Obviously, they were right, and that plan led to Jones having little success getting into any type of rhythm or finding anyone open. He ended up completing just 3 of his 6 pass attempts for just 13 yards.
While Jones was dealing with the Bears defense, it also didn’t help that after back-to-back series where they barely moved the football, the crowd on hand at Gillette Stadium took little time in turning on the young quarterback, booing loudly with many starting to chant for back up quarterback, Bailey Zappe.
When Jones took the field on that third series, it was another struggle. He started things off by just barely overthrowing Tyquan Thornton streaking up the left sideline for what could of potentially been a touchdown. That could have been just the play he needed to potentially quiet an angry mob that was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Instead, it went down as just another miscue on a night where little went his way.
Jones managed to get a little redemption two plays later after taking off and picking up 10-yards on a 3rd-and-5 and moving the chains, which elicited a few cheers. He then followed that up a couple of plays later by getting them into Bears’ territory when he fired a throw to Hunter Henry for 12 yards.
Unfortunately, an interception on a bad decision several plays later by Jones as he was targeting Jonnu Smith saw all of those efforts fall apart, leading to an explosion of boos which then morphed into an absolute deafening chant for Zappe, who replaced him on the ensuing drive.
That’s a nightmare that Jones will probably have a tough time getting past, albeit his recent trip to New Jersey at least gave him a break from it.
Still, Sunday’s game against the Jets went anything but smoothly. Jones again found himself under pressure by a solid New York defense that sacked him six times and forced an interception on a play where his arm got hit. He also avoided a disaster on a would-be pick-six where Jakobi Meyers went one way and Jones threw the other on what the quarterback told reporters after the game was a “miscommunication.”
Fortunately, that play got called back because Jets defensive end John Franklin-Myers decided to hit Jones after the ball was gone, which cost his team what could have been a game-changing turnover.
Jones also lucked out because he was in New York and the crowd on hand erupted and took their anger out by screaming at the refs. Had that occurred at Gillette Stadium, one can only imagine how that would have gone given what happened a little over a week ago.
Fortunately, Jones survived the miscue and settled down, missing just four passes in a second half that saw him complete 11-of-15 for 72-yards including a touchdown.
It was a bumpy start back toward hopefully reclaiming some of the success he had during his rookie year, which obviously to this point has been anything but given how things started. He had three difficult outings that saw him injured in two of them, with the third one being the game against Baltimore where he suffered his ankle injury.
However, if Jones had any hope that the crowd would get behind him when he came back, that went out the window due to what unfolded while he was sidelined. It started when Zappe nearly beat Aaron Rodgers in relief of Brian Hoyer, who suffered a concussion just 10 minutes into the first contest Jones missed in Green Bay.
The rookie then went out and took care of Detroit and Cleveland, which has since created a lot of conversation where talk radio has done a solid job of stirring the pot and contributing to a situation that will likely plague Jones for the rest of the season.
Zappe’s emergence changed everything for Jones. (PHOTO: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports)
Jones essentially finds himself where it’s now him against the world. Every game is basically a road game where he’ll be playing these final nine contests in front of a hostile crowd, with the only people he can count on to have his back being the guys on his own sideline.
That starts this Sunday when the team comes home to face the Indianapolis Colts, who will likely be fired up coming off a tough loss to the Washington Commanders. They have their own young quarterback in Sam Ehlinger, who it’s probably safe to say Jones will face comparisons against since Ehlinger more or less represents for Colts fans what Zappe does in New England.
That’s why it’s going to be so important for Jones to hopefully take a step forward this weekend coming off of how he finished against the Jets. Bill Belichick talked about Jones’ efforts after the game and remains in his corner, with the ball clearly in the second-year quarterback’s court as long as he’s able to continue stringing some positive plays together.
A solid performance against the Colts would be a great place to start, and at least give him some momentum heading into the bye.
These next two games are going to be critical, and likely difficult. Jones will spend two straight games battling the home crowd as he tries to get two key wins against both Indianapolis and a rematch against the Jets, with the latter being one that could end up having implications in the standings within the division.
They’ll then play four straight night games which will include a Thursday night game just four days later in Minnesota on Thanksgiving, followed by another Thursday night game one week later back at Gillette Stadium in what will be the first of two showdowns against the Division-leading Buffalo Bills.
With the crowd likely amped up for that one, Jones may as well treat that one as if he’s playing in Western New York since the objective either way will be the same.
A convincing win over Buffalo might start to finally turn some people back into his corner. Until then, he can probably expect Gillette Stadium to be just as hostile than any other venue he’ll compete in for the rest of the season.
Jones has said in the last week that the only thing he can control is his “attitude and his effort.” For now, he’s also going to have to accept that he’s a man on an island, with a second half stretch with only his teammates behind him as he tries to navigate what will likely be some rough seas ahead of him.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Bailey Zappe Mac Jones New England Patriots