In a frustrating 33-26 primetime loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Thanksgiving, there was one big positive that all fans seemed to agree on, and that was Mac Jones. In a trying second year with the Patriots which included a slight quarterback controversy, Jones came into Minnesota with only two touchdowns and seven interceptions, but one would not be able to tell with the way he played on Thursday night. Jones finished the game with 28 completions on 39 attempts for 382 yards and two touchdowns. Jones also recorded a 119.8 passer rating, which is among the top-5 best in his career.
From the start of training camp, reports were coming out about offensive struggles in a year where there was a new offensive coordinator in Matt Patricia, along with a new offensive scheme. At first, the reports were hard to believe, due to the fact that the offense arguably got stronger from 2021 with the addition of DeVante Parker and the offensive scheme being more akin to what Jones ran at Alabama, with more spread formations.
As the season progressed, the reports were confirmed, with New England struggling to push the ball downfield along with many turnovers. A big part of the blame for the offensive struggles was put on Jones, with him seemingly taking more steps back rather than forward. Fand didn't take this too well in a league that has seen a lot of second year leaps among quarterbacks.
On a short week coming off another underwhelming offensive performance against the Jets, only scoring three points on offense, all the pressure was on Mac Jones. Pressure either bursts pipes or creates diamonds, and in the case of Jones, it seemed to be the latter. Thursday night was Jones’ third straight game without a turnover, and it was the first game where the offense scored a touchdown in the first quarter, which came on a 35-yard strike to Nelson Agholor. Jones went on to record 9.79 yards per attempt and spread the ball around, hitting six different receivers for three or more connections. Jones was getting the ball out quick and hitting the underneath routes as well as pushing the ball downfield, which was what he was best at in Alabama.
Back at Alabama, Jones exhibited great pocket presence as well as quick decision making and good ball placement. On Thursday night those qualities were on display. The frustration fans have shown with Jones is mostly due to the contrast between this season and his impressive rookie season in which he made the Pro Bowl. Last year, Jones was one of the most accurate quarterbacks not only from his draft class, but among the upper echelon of the league, with a 67.6 completion percentage and a 92.5 passer rating. Along with the accuracy displayed, Jones threw for nearly 4,000 yards and 22 touchdowns.
A quarterback controversy arose when Jones went down in the last minutes of a week three matchup against the Ravens with a high ankle sprain. In place of Jones, fourth round rookie Bailey Zappe took the helm. With Zappe, the offense looked noticeably smoother, causing some fans to favor him over Jones. Jones is no stranger to this situation though, ever since high school, Jones had to fight for his spot, he proved he was the guy with winning a state championship for The Bolles School in his 2016 senior season. This trend continued into his career in Alabama, with him being behind names such as Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts. Jones eventually led the tide to an undefeated record and title in 2020.
Despite the result on Thursday night being a loss, Jones definitely silenced some doubt about him being the rightful starter, although this does not mean Zappe fever is still not looming over his shoulder. With the way New England fans are, and the way this league is, Jones will need to keep this level of play going consistently.
Jones and the Patriots will be hosting the Buffalo Bills in another Thursday Night primetime game. Mac and the offense will certainly need to do something similar and probably better than what they did against the Vikings in order to beat the Bills. Once again, most of the pressure in this next matchup will be on the shoulders of Jones, and Patriots nation will be watching intently. With playoff hopes hanging in the balance, the Patriots will need to be playing their best football going forward, and the quarterback will be a huge part of that.
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