It's a widely-admired quality in an athlete. The great ones hate to lose. But there is a fine line between being fueled by that loathsome feeling and being shackled by it.
Mac Jones has made it clear he takes his job seriously. He's made it clear he can't stand coming up short on the scoreboard -- particularly after falling to the Saints in Week 3.
He sat on the Patriots bench and hung his head for an extended period before the game was over. He didn't move when the clock hit zero. Patriots receiver Nelson Agholor tried to encourage him. Saints quarterback Jameis Winston walked all the way across the field for a half-hearted postgame handshake from Jones, still seated. It wasn't until Jones' coach Bill Belichick made his way over that the rookie quarterback stood up and headed back into the Patriots locker room.
Inside, tight end Hunter Henry tried to pick up his young teammate after a three-interception day.
"I just talked to him before I was gonna leave," Henry said. "I've been in, just for five years, but I've been through a lot of these unfortunately. But it's a long season. We can't hang our head. We can't let this linger and snowball into multiple games ...
"As far as Mac, man, he'll be fine. This is all new to him. It's a long season. It's a little different than college for sure. We gotta move on and not let this snowball."
Stories of Jones' emotional approach followed him from his time at Alabama and it popped up at times at Patriots training camp. During one practice, after a series of bad plays one after the next, he frustratingly paced off the field and then back as fellow quarterbacks Cam Newton and Brian Hoyer tried to talk him down. Jones eventually stood still and steamed while he watched the end of practice with Newton by his side doing most of, if not all, the talking.
After winning the starting quarterback gig, Jones finds himself as the successor to Tom Brady in New England, expected to take a roster that is built to win now and help it do exactly that. Consistently.
This week, he'll have to try to help his team get back on track against Brady himself and the reigning champion Bucs.
All eyes will be on Brady. No one outside One Patriot Place is expecting the Patriots to win.
Still, there is ample pressure on Jones to help keep his team from starting the season 1-3.
"Obviously no one likes to lose here," Jones said after the loss to New Orleans, "and the Patriots have done nothing but win for a long time, and we have to get back to that. It just happens through everyday grind, everyday work, and not focusing on the results. Play each play, one day at a time. If we can do that I think we'll see progress and we'll just go from there."
It's admirable for Jones to want the Patriots to get back to where they once were as a winning franchise. But it's a lot to ask him to live up to the standard set thanks in part to the greatest and longest-sustained run of quarterback play the NFL has ever seen.
That Jones would hold himself to such a standard should come as little surprise based on his own life experience. During his time at Alabama, from 2017 through 2020, the Crimson Tide posted a record of 51-4. During his first and only full season as a starter, he went 13-0 and won a national championship.
That loss to the Saints in Week 3 was just one of 17 games this season. It wasn't a divisional loss or a conference loss. It mattered, but not as much as others will. Part of what he's learning at this point in his career is that, while a hatred of losing is welcome, not every loss can be treated like a national championship defeat.
"I think that these are all new experiences, win or lose," offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels said Tuesday. "And so he's dealing with all of that as we go week to week here. We have a good practice, there's an emotional response. We have a practice that's not our best, we have to handle it in a certain way ...
"I think my job in that regard is no different than if I was coaching a technique or fundamental on the field that I wish was a little different. Just try to give him some guidance or wisdom in handling a protection or handling an outcome. Look, no two guys are going to handle everything the same. And I don't want them to be robotic. I don't want them to all be identical, but usually, the biggest thing about this game is, there's a long season. There's a lot that goes into each game, each preparation. There's going to be some adversities. You may have a bad quarter, you may have a bad day, you may have a bad week. That doesn't mean you can let that snowball into a bad month or a bad season."
It's early in Jones' pro career, but he has exhibited an ability to bounce back to this point. When he had a bad practice in camp, he unfailingly came back the next day to show he could be accurate and deliver the football quickly. After a loss to the Dolphins, when he was walloped 11 times, he limited his mistakes while his rookie counterpart Zach Wilson threw four interceptions in an easy Patriots win.
In all likelihood, he'll have to do more than manage the game on Sunday night when Brady returns. Managing his emotions when things don't go well will be just as important.
But those close to him on the Patriots have faith that won't be an issue, that things won't snowball on him as he learns about the ups and downs of life as an NFL starter.
"Really proud of how he handles basically everything in terms of his mindset and how he attacks his job," McDaniels said. "I couldn't ask him to do more. Hopefully, we can continue to learn with positive results as we go forward."