Hey, it’s OK. You can say the names “Tom Brady” and “Mac Jones” in the same sentence and not have to apologize for it.
Beware. You will encounter simple people. People who will grab their temples and howl that you’re comparing a player that hasn’t started a preseason game with a living legend who’s won seven Super Bowls. And counting.
Depending on your level of patience in that moment, you may choose to explain why Tom Brady is the correct comp.
Start by pointing out that, since Mac Jones is in his first season as the Patriots starter, you of course aren’t comparing him to 2007, 2010 or 2016 Tom Brady. Suitably reassured, your simple person can now digest this important nugget.
For 2021 Jones, the goal should be to play like 2001 Tom Brady. Actually, the expectation should be he will perform like 2001 Tom Brady.
As a charter-member of the Brady’s Better Than Bledsoe Brigade (Est. August, 2001), I feel like I have a good grip on what that player looked like. Brady, like Jones, outperformed the starter. Decisions were made more quickly. Throws were more accurate. Brady was capable of a wider variety of throws. He was more agile in the pocket.
So why wasn’t he the starter coming out of camp?
Mostly because Bledsoe was firmly entrenched and in possession of a newly-signed 10-year, $103M contract signed in February. Some of the motivation behind that deal was related to business. The Patriots were breaking ground on CMGI Field. There were sponsors, season-tickets, luxury boxes, etc. to sell. With the young, smart, strong-armed Bledsoe signed up long-term, people had an idea what they were signing up for. That it turned out a bit better than they imagined was a nice bonus. Even if they never set foot in “CMGI Field.”
For Jones, the entrenched starter aspect didn’t exist with Cam Newton. Further, he’s a first-round pick. There’s no dice-roll to this move.
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Back in May, after Jones was drafted, I dug out Belichick’s quotes from the early September when he revealed Brady had ascended to No. 2 on the depth chart and also when it was announced he’d start after Bledsoe’s serious injury in Week 2.
At one point in the press conference, Belichick said this:
"I really don't think that I am going to be standing here week after week talking about all of the problems that Tom Brady had. I have confidence in him, I think the team has confidence in him and I think that he will prepare himself well and he will go out there and perform at a good level.
"I am sure that like every other young player there will always be something in the game that you would like to do differently. People say that about every player young or old. It is always going to be that way. Everybody will make a mistake in the game, but I think overall that he will perform within the framework of the offense that we have designed for him and he will make plays that he is capable of making. That is what my expectations are and I think Tom will work hard to respond to that opportunity."
Brady did have those ugly days. The ugliest was his second start down in Miami when he went 12 for 24 for 86 yards and lost a fumble that turned into a touchdown in a 30-10 beatdown. And he bounced back from that immediately in an OT win over the Chargers and a stay-out-of-the-way, 16-for-20 win at Indy when the wonderful David Patten, who passed away this week, had a monumental day.
That’s what Brady’s 2001 was all about. In his 14 regular-season starts, he threw 18 touchdowns and 12 picks. He completed 63.9 percent of his passes for a modest 189.5 yards per game. It was a different league in terms of the physicality allowed on wideouts and quarterbacks and the stats kind of show that. I’d expect Jones’ numbers to be better because he’s got better tight ends, a more potent running game, a better offensive line and the rules are more conducive to passing than they were then.
Brady was a short-range thrower, especially since his downfield threat, Terry Glenn, never played after the fifth game of the year. Brady took 41 sacks in those 14 games. That’s a lot. He was sacked on nine percent of his dropbacks. His second-worst season in terms of sack percentage was 2013 when he was sacked on six percent of his dropbacks.
If Jones is subscribing to the “First, do no harm…” mantra I expect he will have hammered into him, he will take a lot of sacks. Forty-one? Doubt it. But a third-down sack and the ball going to Jake Bailey for a punt is preferable to a rushed, indecisive throw that gets picked. So Mac will go down.
Is it OK to expect that Mac Jones will win a Super Bowl as Brady did in 2001? No. That would be stupid. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition or a once-in-a-lifetime run to happen a second time to the same franchise 20 years after the first.
But you should expect – as a baseline – Mac Jones to play like Tom Brady did in 2001. Capably. Confidently. Effectively. Accurately. I just don’t think we’ll be talking week after week about how Mac Jones torpedoed the Patriots chances of winning.