With only six weeks remaining in the 2021 NFL season, the New England Patriots find themselves atop the AFC East.
Mac Jones hasn't put up huge numbers in his rookie season, but he hasn't had to in order to get the Patriots to 7-4 heading into Week 12. The rookie quarterback has for the most part taken a conservative offensive approach while letting New England's running game and defense do damage. That formula has resulted in a five-game win streak entering Sunday's game vs. the Tennessee Titans.
But is that a recipe for long-term success? Can the Patriots hold off the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East and make a run in the postseason with Jones under center?
The Athletic's Matthew Fairburn joined Phil Perry on a new episode of the Next Pats Podcast to discuss those questions.
Perry asked Fairburn if the Patriots are capable of winning at a high level this season with Jones under center.
"I think you can," Fairburn said. "I think if you're Bill Belichick, you can. He's found so many different ways to win over the years and obviously all of those included Tom Brady up until this point. But the way they're playing defense is going to give them a chance in most games. Everything becomes so matchup-specific as you get down toward the end of the season and you get into the playoffs. If you get the right matchup at the right time, you can catch a hot streak like the Patriots have."
Fairburn adds that Jones' ability to avoid silly mistakes is what separates him from other rookie QBs, and that could be a difference-maker down the stretch.
"I think what's different about Mac Jones compared to early-career Josh Allen, two totally different situations, totally different prospects," Fairburn said. "It's kind of what's cool about coming into this at the early stages of Mac Jones after seeing Josh Allen from the beginning. There was no way no matter how the Bills were constructed that they were winning in 2018 with Josh Allen because he was figuring a lot of stuff out that is required to play quarterback at even a league-average level. Mac Jones has a lot of that stuff already programmed into him it seems like.
"He takes care of the ball a lot better than most rookie quarterbacks. He rebounds from mistakes much better than most young players that I've seen. ... He's making quick decisions, getting the ball out quickly, and now that they're running the ball the way they have, that's a formula that you can win with."
Also discussed on the new episode: What’s going on with the Bills? Are they too ‘soft’? Can they turn things around this year? Is the Patriots’ or Bills’ approach to building around their young QB more effective? And Perry and Fairburn answer some questions from the mailbag.