Mac Jones was on the national menu Thursday night.
The Patriots went into Thursday night’s game on a four-game winning streak. They’d kicked the lid off their 2-4 coffin and, after last week’s demolition of the Browns, national media spent four days pushing on to the “Patriots Reborn” storyline.
The pregame, in-game and postgame tongue bath for Mac Jones was predictably relentless. At one point, on an admittedly beautiful 15-yard throw to Hunter Henry on a third-and-4 late in the third quarter, FOX broadcaster Joe Buck blurted, “That throw tells you all that you need to know about Mac Jones."
It did? Did it? I don’t know. I mean, the next throw was a “Don’t do thaaaaatttt…” interception on a hasty throw to Jonnu Smith. So I’d say there’s still plenty left to know about Mac.
But the upshot is that the Patriots -- over two decades -- became (and I may be overstating) kind of an NFL Royal Family. A mix of Shakespearean tragedy and Greek mythology come to life. The cloak-and-dagger Kraft-Parcells-Belichick scramble for power and revenge. Prince Drew being replaced on the throne by a stable hand who went from humble prince to king. The shades of Icarus in the 2007 chase for perfection. All the tragedy, treason and double-dealing that was a backdrop to success so unrelenting that it inspired loathing and appreciation in equal measures.
And then it ended. The Prince left. Exiled himself to a new kingdom. From there, he conquered. The king he left behind left to deal with a diminished army and whispers that grew to shouts that it was the Prince who made the king.
And now, after a year spent stewing and isolated in a cold, gray castle, Bill Belichick has dropped the drawbridge and rides again with a new Prince who looks a lot like the old Prince.
Mac Jones has Tom Brady’s DNA all over him and the Patriots never died; they were just sleeping. Or so the story is going to go.
Which means that, just like Young Tom Brady, the scrutiny is going to come for Young Mac Jones. Actually, it’s already here. While Jones stands there still dripping from the aforementioned tongue bath, shrugging and stuff like a 21st century Richie Cunningham, the derisive snorts of, “Is that all there is?!?!?” are flowing.
Get a load of the replies under this tweet noting that Jones completed 85 percent of his passes and is the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to complete 80 percent in back-to-back games.
The consensus? The game’s easy when it’s all about checkdowns, screens and throwing it sideways. Where are the air yards? Why doesn’t he throw it sidearm or while falling down? How many arms slots and platforms does Mac Jones have?
He’s a product of the system, the NFL equivalent of the lucky sperm club. Born on third base and everyone’s in a rush to celebrate his triple.
The most obvious pushback, of course, is if it’s so easy, how come more teams aren’t doing it? It’s not like the Patriots’ system is a new model that just rolled off the assembly line last summer. The ensuing sputtering about Belichick, Josh McDaniels, a dominant running game, a stifling defense and Nick Saban does serve to muddy the water. Because there are shards of truth in all of those 2021 realities for Jones.
He’s in a great spot. But it’s not all about nurture. There are aspects of Jones’ football nature that would be present whether he were here, Chicago, Jacksonville or San Francisco.
If you "Freaky Friday" Jones and, say, Trey Lance, would the Patriots be 7-4 and a couple of possessions from 10-1? Come on. You know they wouldn’t. They might not be there with Trevor Lawrence either. Or Baker Mayfield.
Jones’ best attributes -- accuracy, anticipation, pre and post-snap acumen, pocket poise, physical toughness, the understanding of his limitations and the “do no harm” philosophy -- fit here and would fit anywhere.
Understand that a lot of the people offended by Jones’ “quarterbacking by the numbers” style are the same ones who pull the shades, dim the lights and watch frame-by-frame video of Patrick Mahomes’ greatest incompletion of all-time.
In reality, the criticism of Jones has less to do with him and the Patriots' “Paring Knife and a Billy Club” style of offense. It’s got more to do with the fact that the Bill Belichick Patriots aren’t dead yet.
The head coach is 69. Owner Robert Kraft is 80. It was supposed to be over. Now they’re cracking their knuckles and settling in at the piano for a long, long encore?
The King is dead. Long live the king. All that.
The longest-running drama in professional sports history is back. For a 22nd season.