Mac Jones faces historic challenge in Monday night debut vs. Bills


Mac Jones is saying the right things.

The New England Patriots rookie quarterback insisted Wednesday he's looking forward to making his "Monday Night Football" debut in front of a hostile Buffalo crowd. He dubbed the Bills Mafia a "great fanbase" and seems to be embracing the challenge of playing on the road in primetime.

"I think people who love football want to get a chance to play in games like these," Jones said.

Jones has reason to be confident: He has yet to lose a road game as an NFL quarterback (5-0) and is playing sound football with the support of a strong offensive line, an excellent running game and an improved pass-catching group.

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History won't be on the rookie's side Monday at Highmark Stadium, however. Since the debut of Monday Night Football in 1970, 31 rookie quarterbacks have started in Monday night road games, per Pro Football Reference.


Their combined record? 6-25.

A closer look at the numbers paints an ugly picture. Those 31 rookies completed under 50 percent of their passes (49.9%) for an average of 160.8 passing yards per game and an average passer rating of 65.6. Only four rookies -- Jeff Garcia, Geno Smith, Sam Darnold and Justin Herbert -- threw multiple TD passes in their first road Monday night start, and Garcia and Herbert both lost anyway. Meanwhile, nine rookies threw at least two interceptions, while 10 were sacked at least four times.

A case of the Mondays

Winning percentage of rookie QBs in road Monday night games, all time

Among those who fell short in their road MNF debut: Patriots Hall of Famer Steve Grogan (188 yards and no TDs in a 20-7 loss to Miami), former Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl champion Joe Flacco (192 yards and one TD in a 23-20 loss to Pittsburgh), and most recently Chicago Bears rookie Justin Fields, who led a 21-point comeback against the Steelers in Week 9 that fell just short in a 29-27 loss.

There are a lot of outside factors at play here, of course. Teams starting rookie quarterbacks tend to be, for the most part, not very good. (See the 2021 draft class; Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Fields and Davis Mills have 11 wins total between them.) And home teams tend to have the advantage on Monday nights regardless of who they're facing; 27 of the league's 32 clubs have winning percentages above .500 at home on MNF.

Jones also looks like the exception to many rookie rules. He's only the fourth rookie QB ever to go 4-0 in the month of November and has the Patriots on a six-game winning streak while completing 70.3 percent of his passes, third-best in the NFL.

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But he's yet to face a challenge like this one: a Monday night primetime game against a 7-4 Bills team with one of the NFL's most rabid fanbases.

We've yet to see any evidence to suggest Jones will wilt in the spotlight. He went toe-to-toe with Tom Brady in one of the most hyped regular-season games in NFL history, after all. If he pulls off the victory at Orchard Park on Monday, though, he'll buck an overwhelming trend.