Jason Taylor, Hall of Fame pass-rusher for the Dolphins, made a living off harassing quarterbacks. He spent a decade of his career frustrating Tom Brady, who once said that despite hours of watching film with coaches to neutralize Taylor, "I can't say we ever came up with an answer."
Taylor knows when a quarterback is frazzled. But after he finished up his radio duties at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, Taylor explained that what impressed him most about Mac Jones was that the Patriots rookie refused to be shaken in a 17-16 loss to the Dolphins.
Miami was credited with hitting Jones nine times. Still, Jones stood in the pocket and delivered accurately enough to hit over 70 percent of his passes (29-for-39) at a clip of over 7.0 yards per attempt (281 yards). He read the Dolphins blitz and redirected protections.
Jones lost the game, but he was the best Alabama quarterback on the field. Anyone watching knew it, Taylor included.
"They've got a quarterback," he said.
Let's get to the grades for Week 1...
The Patriots were expecting Brian Flores and his Dolphins defense to bring pressure early and often at Mac Jones. The funny thing was ... they didn't. On back-to-back third downs in the second quarter, for instance, Jones saw one three-man rush and one four-man rush. That's conservative for any defense, nevermind the team that ran more Cover 0 blitzes than any other team on third down last season.
It wasn't until late in the game that Miami consistently added extra rushers to their pressure packages. Once they got into the fourth quarter, it looked like a switch was flipped. Corners rushed. Linebackers. Miami crowded the line of scrimmage and dropped defenders into coverage at the last minute. The looks were varied and unpredictable. Still, Jones handled himself. He completed 9 of his 11 fourth-quarter attempts for 53 yards, hitting on quick strikes that helped keep the chains moving.
When pressure did get to Jones, he was poised. He took a shot on his first-career touchdown throw to Nelson Agholor. He got walloped again when he hit Agholor for a deep completion along the left sideline in the third quarter. One of the hardest hits he took came later in the third quarter when he found Hunter Henry on a crosser. On a third down in the fourth, he backpedaled with Emmanuel Ogbah all over him, threw accurately off his back foot and found Jakobi Meyers for a first down.
It wasn't perfect. He threw a bounce pass backwards into the turf on his first pro dropback. Not ideal. He missed Meyers on a third down in the red zone. He seemed to get rid of the football too hastily when seeing just a three-man rush in the red zone in the second quarter. But the Patriots didn't lose this one because of their rookie quarterback.
His first regular-season action -- both on the field and in his fiery postgame press conference -- was impressive. Historic, even. According to Pro Football Reference numbers dug up by Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal, Jones is the first rookie to ever attempt at least 30 passes in his first career start and complete over 70 percent of them.
Seems like Taylor was right. They've got a quarterback.
Running back: D
Harsh? Don't think so. The red-zone fumble coughed up by Damien Harris ended what looked like it was a well-timed drive that would both a) kill clock and b) get the Patriots within range of an easy game-winning field goal. It wasn't the only costly error made by Bill Belichick's club in this one. But it was the most costly.
Add it to a fumble for Rhamondre Stevenson, and lump both turnovers in with moments in pass-protection (both by Harris and Stevenson) that got Jones smacked ... and it was a day to forget for this group. Harris rushing for 100 yards and James White catching six passes for 49 yards helped prevent this grade from dropping into the basement.
Wide receiver: B+
Nelson Agholor had a rough summer, filled with drops. Then, during the buildup to the first weekend of the regular season, he was limited in practice due to an ankle injury. On Sunday, it was like none of that ever happened. He caught five passes for 72 yards and he found a soft spot in Miami's zone coverage for Mac Jones' first touchdown pass of his career. His 25-yard reception in tight coverage might've been his best of the day.
Meyers caught six passes -- he should've had a seventh but dropped an off-the-mark throw from Jones on a fourth-quarter third-down snap in the red zone -- for 44 yards and Kendrick Bourne chipped in one for 17. Bourne's best contribution on the day might've been on a cleanly-run "rub" route that freed up Meyers on third down for a second-quarter conversion.
Tight end: C
After an offseason of anticipation, the Patriots confirmed on Sunday that they would in fact be using their tight ends a whole heckuva lot. By my count, they used 12 personnel (one back, two tight ends) on 12 of their 16 first-quarter snaps and on 36 snaps total.
Jonnu Smith, the team's highest-priced free agent signed this offseason, took a handoff for six yards and caught five passes for 42 yards. Hunter Henry was more quiet (three catches, 31 yards). Though both did their fair share of blocking on a day when their team rushed for 125 yards, they didn't look like dominant people-movers. And Smith's ill-advised third-down leap over a defender -- when he flipped and fumbled the football -- nearly cost the team points in the second quarter. Plenty of room for improvement from this unit moving forward.
Offensive line: C+
There should be better days ahead for this group. Could Jones have gotten rid of the football more quickly at times to avoid some of the punishment he absorbed? Yep. He said as much after the game. But was he covering for his teammates up front? Yep.
Beyond the pressure, though, the mistakes from the Patriots offensive line that wiped away golden opportunities were killers. Isaiah Wynn was called for a hold in the red zone in the second quarter that stalled a drive. Immediately after a momentum-generating throw from Jones to Agholor deep down the field, Justin Herron -- filling in for an injured Trent Brown -- was beaten easily and forced to hold to save his quarterback some pain. Shaq Mason was called for a blindside block that wiped away a big gainer at the end of the third quarter. Jones was only sacked once, technically, when he panicked and threw backwards when under pressure. And the Patriots did rush for 4.2 yards per carry. Still, from a group from which much has been expected, it was not a great day.
Special teams: C+
The kicking game wasn't exempt from picking up some penalty yardage. Brandon King got dinged for a hold on a kick return that backed the Patriots up inside their own 10-yard line in the third quarter. Matt Judon took an unnecessary roughness penalty that moved the Patriots back 15 yards when they would've started their drive at the end of the third quarter with very good field position. Nick Folk, up from the practice squad, made all three of his kicks and his extra-point try.
Defensive line: B
The first drive of the game for the Dolphins was a rough one for this group. They were in the middle of it all as the Patriots allowed 31 yards on six carries, including a three-yard touchdown run from Tua Tagovailoa. But from there, they improved. Miami really couldn't get much going on the ground throughout the course of the night, compiling just 74 yards on 23 carries (3.2 per attempt). Lawrence Guy, Davon Godchaux and Co. will take that.
Christian Barmore, meanwhile, was disruptive in the passing game on a handful of Dolphins dropbacks. He's still waiting for his first quarterback hit, but his strength and quickness at the point of attack is pretty evident when he's given an opportunity to pin his ears back and rush. His pressure, handling tackle Jesse Davis, on a third-and-five snap in the second quarter helped lead to a Miami three-and-out.
Not a bad showing against his former team for Kyle Van Noy. After generating pressure on first down during Miami's second drive, he picked up a sack on third down to kill the drive. And he batted a pass at the line of scrimmage. Matt Judon and Ja'Whaun Bentley also picked up tackles for loss, and Josh Uche had the team's only other sack when he buried replacement left tackle Liam Eichenberg to eventually drop Tagovailoa.
Van Noy picked up a neutral-zone infraction penalty. The team's linebackers might've had issues with the pace Miami displayed on its first drive. And this group may be kicking itself for not being able to help stop the Dolphins when they ran their four-minute, clock-killing offense to perfection at the end of the game. But 17 points is 17 points. Hard to drop them out of the "B" range.
Did the long catch allowed to DeVante Parker by J.C. Jackson wipe out the positive grade for Jonathan Jones' impressive bobbled interception? Not totally. Jackson (5-foot-10) is going to occasionally have issues out-jumping receivers for rebound-type receptions like that one. But there were other moments that showed this unit is still looking to round into form. Jaylen Waddle was wide open on a third down catch-and-run play that looked like a busted coverage between Jones and Jalen Mills. Jones lost track of the football on a 36-yard grab by Waddle. Jackson missed a tackle. Kyle Dugger couldn't drop Waddle before the goal line -- Waddle's man in coverage, Joejuan Williams, lost a step on Waddle during a pre-snap motion -- on Waddle's first-career score.
Dugger did pick up a tackle for a loss. Adrian Phillips had two. Mills did break up a pass in the end zone. And there was that Jones pick. Not a bad day. Just one that could've been better had the group capitalized on a couple more of the opportunities it had to make plays on the football.