You all got your caveats ready? You got your, “Yeah, buts…” lined up? You fished out your mealy-mouthed, “but it’s the system…” disclaimers?
Good. You’ll need them. Because Mac Jones is having the best rookie season any quarterback’s had since Dak Prescott in 2016. And he’s having one of the best rookie seasons of any quarterback in the past decade.
Now, as you dry off your screen from the coffee you just spit out and sputter about Justin Herbert and Kyler Murray, understand you’ll also be confirming something that’s almost beyond arguing. Jones is obscenely underrated.
On Sunday, against a Browns team that undressed Joe Burrow (the No. 1 overall pick in 2020) and the Bengals a week ago, Jones was brilliant, finishing 19 of 23 for 198 yards and three touchdowns before being lifted in a 45-7 rout.
Since his three-pick game against New Orleans, Jones has 11 touchdowns and four picks and the Patriots have gone 5-2. He’s thrown for 2,333 yards with 13 touchdowns and seven picks. He’s dueled Prescott and Tom Brady and had his team in position to win both games. He’s gone cross-country and beaten Herbert head-to-head.
The Patriots are 6-4 and have played consistently well since that loss to the Saints and Jones has a huge share in that. Yes, the offensive line’s improved. The running game’s one of the best in the league. The defense has found its identity and they are sound, physical and hard to solve. Just like the Patriots drew it up in the offseason.
But that shouldn’t diminish the fact that, with all these new-to-the-Patriots weapons -- Hunter Henry, Kendrick Bourne and Rhamondre Stevenson among them -- what Jones is doing is unique.
You think Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance or Justin Fields would be doing the same thing if they were here, don’t you? That Jones is just lucky to have landed in New England with Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels?
That’s what everyone thinks.
The funny thing is, every time Jones does something, the immediate reaction is, “Do it again. Do it against a better defense. Then we’ll see.” With those other guys -- and other more-adored quarterbacks who fit the suit more than average-armed, Dad-bodied Mac -- everything is based on what they will do when everything around them is just right.
Isn’t that the very definition of underrated? That Jones does things people don’t quite expect and, that when he does them it’s because of someone or something else? I’m not the only one noticing it.
Jones isn’t a breathtaking performer the way Herbert was last year for the Chargers when he threw 31 touchdowns, 10 picks and ran for five more scores. He’s not electric like Murray was when he was a rookie in 2019. He’s not a highlight waiting to happen like Lamar Jackson was in 2018 when he took over for Joe Flacco.
But Herbert’s team went 6-9 in his starts last year. And Murray went 5-10 in 2019. Jackson went 6-3 when he got in there and ran for almost 700 yards. He also had 12 fumbles. Patrick Mahomes sat for his rookie year. Deshaun Watson had six starts. Carson Wentz went 7-9 in 2016.
Meanwhile, Prescott’s 2016 Cowboys went 13-3 and he had 20 touchdowns and four picks. The Patriots aren’t going to match that record but remember how close this team is to 9-1 and that none of those narrow losses to the Dolphins, Cowboys and Bucs can be traced back to failure by their rookie quarterback.
Is Jones fortunate to be where he is? No doubt. But remember, this team was 7-9 last year and Cam Newton threw eight touchdowns, 10 picks and managed just 2,657 passing yards. If you want to bring up the successes of Jimmy G. and Matt Cassel too and say the system’s rigged, you need to also remember Cassel was in his fourth year when he took over as starter in 2008 (and was playing with a team that went 17-1 the year before) and Garoppolo was in his third year and was running a team that would go on to win the Super Bowl that year.
Why is Jones’ success so easily explained away? Because -- like the guy who was here for two decades -- his greatest asset isn’t as tangible as size, speed or “arm talent.” There’s no “composure” test at the Combine. There’s no way to measure mental resilience.
We saw it all summer. The Patriots heaped advanced work on him and he kept responding. He overtook an improved Cam Newton by outperforming Newton day after day. When he had the stray bad day, he came back the next day and was outstanding. We saw it against Dallas when he came back from a pick-six in the fourth quarter and threw a go-ahead bomb on the very next play. We saw it against the Chargers when he was uneven for much of the game then engineered a massive, game-sealing drive.
Sunday, on the Patriots first drive, he converted third-and-8, third-and-6 and third-and-13 with throws. He was 5-for-5 on the first five third downs he faced and didn’t fail to convert a third down until 22 seconds remained in the half. This against one of the NFL’s better defenses.
He must have had about six throws that were so brilliantly placed it seemed like luck. But he’s been doing exactly that since he got here.
“Mac always looks poised. I don’t know what it is,” said wide receiver Kendrick Bourne. “He’s just driven in different ways, wired a different way. He’s just relaxed and I think that’s how we all need to play. He’s not thinking about the next play. He’s not thinking about the last play. He’s thinking about the current play. That mindset can take you far in this league when you have that kind of mindset. I think he has it. It’s easy to dwell on the past. It’s easy to get caught up on what’s ahead and what’s coming. He’s good at just being in the moment and fixing what he’s got going on right there.”
“I pretty much knew what we had the first day of OTAs,” said tackle Trent Brown. “He’s different. He’s not just your average rookie quarterback. He has a lot of poise, but super mature. He attacks every day like it’s game day. He prepares well. He’s just on top of everything.”
Everyone’s waiting for Mac Jones to turn into a pumpkin. It’s going to be a long wait.