Patriots quarterback Mac Jones appeared on Jones and Mego with Arcand on Monday at Gillette Stadium, with the signal-caller taking part in the first of likely many awkward exchanges heading into the 2023 football season.
The segment, which is part of the contractual deal held by the station for its Patriots Monday coverage, and also includes an interview in the morning on The Greg Hill Show with head coach Bill Belichick, was fairly highly anticipated due to Adam Jones’ penchant for being overly critical of the third-year quarterback in favor of second-year QB Bailey Zappe.
In fact, it’s gone well beyond a reasonable level, with Jones drawing criticism from both co-host Meghan Ottolini and weekly guest, Tom Curran of NBC Sports Boston.
Both have expressed he’s getting a little ridiculous, yet each has been rebuffed by Jones, who just doesn’t seem to know how to get off this train.
He typically holds little back, taking a shot as often as he can. He fired off one at Mac Saturday night as Zappe scored a touchdown in the third quarter, finishing off a drive where he went 5-of-6 after having gone 5-of-16 (31%) during his previous three series against a tough Green Bay defense.
He would've slid two yards short and begged for a flag. https://t.co/D3SprUhLX7
— Jones Henry ⚾️⚾️⚾️ (@JonesWEEI) August 20, 2023
For Jones, he gets somewhat of a pass from this side of things, as he came over from 98.5 The Sports Hub, which was where he was when I learned a bit about him, and there’s a history in terms of who he really is.
Behind the scenes, he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. He was an advocate for one of our guys as podcasts became more prevalent, with Jones quietly being pretty supportive and offering guidance during the early days of ours.
And he’s been a guy who has paid his dues. Jones hosted the evening show behind Felger and Mazz, doing a solid enough job where it finally earned him the opportunity to face off against Michael Felger’s, with Jones moving over and joining WEEI’s own afternoon drive time slot with Ottolini and Christian Arcand, with Arcand fitting in well having also previously been a part of Jones’ show at 98.5.
It’s been a great opportunity, but it’s been tough for him to make a dent in what Felger and Tony Massarotti have done, and that’s sort of where it gets complicated.
Listening to Jones, it feels like he’s done his best to mimic the same obnoxious negative schtick as Felger, which has included latching on to the anti-Mac, “Zappe Fever” whirlwind that took off while Mac Jones was sidelined last season, which obviously sparked discussion and got people interested.
The problem is the embattled WEEI host is trying a little too hard, which makes listening painful at times as many of his points drag on for too long, and he goes much too far to defend them.
Given that his show is miles behind his former station’s, it obviously has him pressing harder, and it feels like he’s now in so deep that he’s probably not sure how to get out.
The Boston Globe’s Chad Finn had the latest ratings last month, which had the Sports Hub dominating in the afternoon slot with a 21.1 share compared to WEEI’s 4.1 (tied for eighth).
It’s tough, especially when Felger executes his own playbook to a tee. While the Patriots have certainly been successful for the last two decades, Felger changed things where it instead all comes down to the most recent news cycle and, if there’s criticism to be had, that’s where he and Massarotti go. Nothing is off limits, and it’s more of a “what have you done lately?” approach that they take.
However, Felger, who is also an incredibly nice guy behind the scenes going back to his days as a beat reporter for both the Patriots and Bruins, knows how to ride that fence. And he’ll be fair while pushing it right to the line, and he also has the luxury of letting Massarotti be the real bad guy if it reaches that point.
Jones doesn’t have that luxury. Ottolini is the voice of reason on that show, and she’s done her best to try and reel him in, although Jones just hasn’t been able to.
For her, the situation has to be frustrating. The combination of her, former cohost Lou Merloni and Christian Fauria was a pretty good one before the shake-up that took place when Jones was hired, which saw Merloni not kept on, while Fuaria moved to the afternoon show with Andy Gresh.
That put Ottolini more in the spotlight, which was the one positive that came out of that change after the news came out. Instead, it didn’t last long and she’s had to switch gears and start figuring out how to best complement Jones, who at times becomes so ridiculous that things tend to off the rails. That has to be both mentally exhausting, as well as disappointing, given that she had just become more entrenched and established herself.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with her, she’s been covering news in this area for a while and has become one of the better on-air female sports personalities locally. She was terrific when she was with the Herald and also great on NBC Sports Boston’s Quick Slants. So to go from finally getting more of a role with the station and the cohosts she was with to this has to be frustrating. Especially given that Ottolini is so well-versed and possesses such a strong knowledge of seemingly every topic she hits on.
That’s one of the reasons why she’s become so well-respected, and it’s clear by the calls that come in that people absolutely listen to what she has to say. So to listen to her try and settle Jones down at times, you can tell there are moments where it’s difficult.
Zappe struggled but finished on a high-note Saturday night. (PHOTO: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports)
It was obvious Jones was nervous on Monday. Mac likely knew Jones’s deal, considering that his people were probably well aware of what’s been said and what he was getting into. Mac Jones’ girlfriend, Sophie Scott, clearly keeps track of what goes on locally, having also blocked WEEI morning host Courtney Cox on social media over something Cox said during a charity event.
Cox has also been fairly critical of Jones, albeit the details on that situation have been a little murky but it seems odd that Scott would have blocked her without a legitimate reason.
And there were definitely some nerves involved for Jones at the start of the interview. With Mac sitting in front of him as he started reading the opening, those nerves got the better of him almost immediately. The radio host flubbed the sponsor read, so it was clear he was probably a little unnerved with Mac sitting across from him.
Jones uttered, “Men’s Health, sexual …” having meant to say “Men’s Sexual Health.” while reading the sponsor line to kick things off.
From there, he settled down but it became obvious that the quarterback was being cordial and it took one question where he finally sort of shot back at him a bit.
“On Saturday, in this is, you know, my expert eye, it looked like you had more freedom at the line of scrimmage, opportunities to kill plays, opportunities to make adjustments. Would you say that’s an accurate assessment?” asked Jones.
“Yeah, I think … I mean … I’m not sure … Have you like, played football before?” Mac asked him, with a little sarcasm in his voice.
“No, trust me, no,” said Jones, who seemed a bit frazzled. “I’m going off the broadcast and just compared to how it looked last year compared to this year.”
“Yeah, that’s a good analysis of it,” said the Pats QB, who then went on to give him a reasonable answer. But Jones was direct and cordial for most of the interview, and while there was no video due to the restrictions when WEEI is at the stadium, the quarterback was respectful but his tone changed slightly the longer it went on.
Ottolini’s reaction was funny after it was over.
My soul left Earth when Mac Jones asked Adam Jones if he ever played football
— Meghan Ottolini (@Meghan_Ottolini) August 21, 2023
Fortunately, Mac seems to have a good rapport with Ottolini, who has been pretty balanced when it’s come to the quarterback situation over the last year. It’s not like she hasn’t been critical, but she’s done a good job of walking the line and being fair while also bringing up things that are engaging which has led to some pretty good discussions, often carrying various portions of the program.
Meanwhile, after the interview was over and Mac had left the room, as he and Ottolini spoke, Jones claims to have been fair after being bothered by fans who posted he wasn’t “tough” enough on the quarterback during the interview. But it’s what he’s said and will continue to say outside of Gillette Stadium that’s the bigger issue.
Again, it’s likely more of a persona he’s taking on for the sake of trying something different to improve their ratings, but all he’s done is drive a wedge in so far that he’s going to have a hard time recovering should Mac go on to have a solid 2023 season.
It’s just a strange situation, and he’s probably a little frustrated himself as to where the station stands and he likely feels a lot of that pressure. It’s also clear that there’s a line between being overly critical and crazy, and Jones is absolutely flirting with it.
Then again, should Mac play poorly, obviously, that’s a different story. But the better move is to seemingly just let things play out and be critical when it’s warranted rather than try to keep finding creative ways to continue beating that drum. Until then, the best he can probably hope for at that point is for something newsworthy enough to happen to be able to pivot away from it and latch on to that instead.
Either way, it’s not going to be easy, and I don’t envy him. He, Arcand and Ottolini are battling an entrenched foe, and it’s going to be a tough task to try climb back up in the ratings. But after trying to take a page out of what Felger does so well, Jones needs to just figure out who he is rather than trying to be somebody else. That may involve finding a better balance with his opinions while trying to keep from going too far over the top. The other difficult part will also be not caring about whatever the backlash might be from those who currently enjoy the excessive stances he tends to take.
It’s either that or they may need to flip-flop where Ottolini takes the lead, and Jones ends up with the role Massarotti is playing, because what they’re doing just doesn’t feel like it’s working.
He’s worked extremely hard to get to this point, and deep down, he’s absolutely a good guy. But Monday was a reminder that his current formula might not end up being good for business if it ultimately backfires.
For now, Mac will be in front of him each week from now until January (and hopefully a little longer). Hopefully, Jones can find a formula that works better for both himself and the people around him, which if that happens will translate into success for himself, Ottolini and Arcand, along with a better listening experience for everybody.
And if Mac Jones and the Patriots end up surprising some people and have success in 2023, even better.
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