If Sunday’s game in Las Vegas ends up being the end of the line for Mac Jones, the New England Patriots will likely walk away losers when they look back on how things have gone.
As everyone knows, finding a serviceable quarterback is one of the most difficult things NFL teams deal with, and it can take years to find someone who can be a reliable signal-caller.
When the Patriots found Jones with the 15th overall pick in 2021, it felt like they had that guy. They had someone who maybe didn’t have the best arm, but was both smart and accurate, which led them to believe he could at least good enough to get the job done.
Over the course of the 2021 season, it certainly felt like that was the case. Jones went on to win 10 games that year and even made the postseason, which led to plenty of optimism about his future. It also likely played a part in former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels landing the job in Las Vegas, with McDaniels receiving praise for Jones’ development.
Obviously, last year was a massive step backward. The experiment with Matt Patricia and Joe Judge was a disaster, perhaps potentially more so from the execution rather than idea, but the end result saw animosity built internally to the point where dramatic changes were needed this offseason.
After the Patriots struggled all last season to come together, the hope was that Bill O’Brien’s arrival this past offseason could stem the tide and get things headed back in the right direction.
The problem is, the Patriots made so many mistakes with their personnel that the issues seemingly extend well past the play calls. In fact, given what we’ve seen, it might possibly close the door on Jones’ future and set them back even further.
The last two games, Jones completely lost his way against both Dallas and New Orleans, ending up on the bench for the final quarter plus during each blowout loss they’ve endured.
For a player who, through the first three weeks, was off to his best statistical start of his career as the starting quarterback of the Patriots, it’s hard not to wonder what happened.
THROUGH 3 GAMES:
2021: 81/120 (67.5%) 737 yards, 2 TDs 3 INTs
2022: 64/97 (66%) 786 yards, 2 TDs 5 INTs
2023: 81/125 (64.8%) 748 yards, 5 TDs, 2 INTs
Against both Dallas and New Orleans, Jones completed a combined 24-of-43 (55.8%) for 260 yards, 0 TDs, and 4 INTs, two of which were returned for touchdowns. He’s looked shell-shocked in each of the losses, seemingly left without any answers.
Granted, adversity is usually the best way to test a player, and despite their lack of offensive weapons, Jones has failed in spectacular fashion in recent weeks, completely falling apart in each outing.
Jones has struggled mightily in recent weeks. (PHOTO: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)
While performance has obviously played a part in it, Jones has stood at the podium and preached getting better and correcting mistakes. Instead, he went out there last Sunday and repeated a lot of the same things that cost him in Dallas the week before.
He again continued throwing flat-footed, making throws falling back, and even had one moment where he seemingly tried to blame Rhamondre Stevenson for a turnover where Jones misfired a toss well behind him on a fake QB sneak, which killed the opening drive of the third quarter before it really ever got started. It also saw cameras catch Stevenson glaring at him as the two sat on opposite ends of the bench on the sideline.
Behind the scenes, it’s clear Jones is frustrated with the current state of the roster, given the comments that leaked out to Fox Sports. In a piece by Henry McKenna, someone close to Jones told the network, “No matter how good of a cook you are, you cannot make garbage taste good,” with that same source adding, “Even if it was not Mac at QB, what QB would want to play here under these conditions?”
Jones later dismissed those comments, but it’s clear he’s not happy and that he doesn’t necessarily accept as much blame as many believe he should.
He’s gotten some support from his coaches, but it definitely feels like that support is waning. This weekend’s match-up against the Raiders may end up being his last opportunity under center if it goes poorly, and he’s already playing from behind.
Both Demario Douglas and JuJu Smith-Schuster have been ruled “Out” for this week, which will leave the Patriots short-handed ahead of this one. That could instead see the return of Tyquan Thornton, as well as potential snaps for Kayshon Boutte, who hasn’t been active since Week 1.
Losing Douglas, who has been their most explosive player, certainly hurts. While they’ll potentially gain youth and athleticism if either Thornton or Boutte see action in lieu of Smith-Schuster, it will mean little if Jones receives the same protection from the offensive line that we’ve seen in recent weeks.
Cole Strange has also been ruled “Out” for this week, which will likely remain an issue for their ground game. The Patriots have struggled to run the football so far this season, with Atonio Mafi having a tougher time opening up holes for Stevenson in Strange’s absence.
Without the ability to run the football effectively, that likely will be the issue that again hampers their offense, and it’s going to be interesting to see how they deal with it.
It’s been an ugly two weeks for Jones. (PHOTO:Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)
Getting back to Jones, it’s tough to figure out where his problems really are. Last season, he finished completing below 60% of his throws where he had 10 or more attempts just once last season, which actually came in Las Vegas against the Raiders after he completed 13-of-31 (41.9%) for 112 yards.
So far, after completing 64% against Philly and 73.8% against Miami, he’s fallen off in spectacular fashion these last few weeks. His problems started at MetLife in what was their lone win over the Jets. He completed just 15-of-29 (51.7%) for 201 yards along with a touchdown, but he was erratic throwing the football.
While the offense had to operate in the rain in that game, neither a dome (Dallas) or a clear sunny day (New Orleans) have helped. The turnovers, instead, have come fast and furious the last two games, which has been the root of their issues since Week 1.
As a result, it’s obvious that something is definitely wrong with the third-year quarterback.
There has been more than one report that these issues are starting to frustrate people on both sides of the football, with the defense obviously suffering the brunt of it.
Last Sunday’s outing saw the Patriots manage just five total offensive first downs for the afternoon, including just one in the entire second half.
That left the defense out there for the majority of the game after the Saints held the ball for over 39 minutes, which was even longer than the Cowboys had it the week before when they had it for 35 minutes.
That’s obviously not sustainable.
Internally, Jones is becoming someone people don’t feel is necessarily the answer, but there’s doubt that Bailey Zappe is that person also.
The Boston Herald’s Andrew Callahan spoke to WEEI’s Jones & Mego with Arcand on Friday, talking about a story he wrote on Jones looking at Jones’ drop off and the tenor of how he’s viewed both here and by other teams. Callahan confirmed that the former first-round pick has lost support within the organization.
“I spoke to someone just last night after the story came out and we spoke at length, and that was one person among, I would say at least a few but probably many, because you can only speak to so many people, that is firmly out on Mac,” said Callahan. “Like, they’re over it. They don’t think he’s the answer, he’s not someone helping the team. They know they’re not alone in that, but two things: they’re not a decision-maker, and they also know that Bailey Zappe is not any better. So that’s where the Patriots are, is really stuck between a bad quarterback and a worse one.”
Still, Jones has been a capable player in this league and his past numbers reflect that. But the issue this season may ultimately end up being the intangibles that will decide his future, and that seems to be where his troubles are slowly becoming centered.
On the field, that’s where it’s complicated. Anyone watching can see he doesn’t have Jakobi Meyers as a safety valve (Meyers had been the club’s third-down receiving leader the previous two seasons), or whatever good version of Nelson Agholor they were able to squeeze out last season.
Instead, it’s been both Smith-Schuster and DeVante Parker, who have ultimately each been so inconsistent that the offense can’t do much of anything, and the results have been what they’ve been.
Whether or not Smith-Schuster’s absence this weekend ends up being a blessing in disguise remains to be seen, but with Douglas sidelined, it’s hard to believe they’ll have enough for this to be the game Jones finally snaps out of it. At least if last year’s results in the desert are any indication.
Needless to say, if Jones implodes again Sunday and this is his final game, it will be interesting to see what his future holds. For a team that was seemingly concerned about its former quarterback falling off a cliff enough to part ways with him in 2020, it’s certainly amazing to see how fast it’s instead fallen off one of its own collectively these last two games after seemingly replacing him.
Let’s just hope that changes on Sunday.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Mac Jones