With a blowout loss at the hands of the Cowboys, some are declaring "panic mode" in Foxboro. They're justified. PIC: David Silverman, New England Patriots
This article is part of the "Do Your Job" series, entitled 'Mac's Big Moment' for the 2023-24 edition. Previous entries can be found here.
Dan Graziano's "Overreactions" segment on ESPN has long been a crowd favorite. Earlier in the offseason, he delivered a simple question for debate: "The Patriots will move on from Mac Jones" was the opener. His thoughts? "Not an overreaction." Some believed it, many did not. But after today, majority of New England Patriots fans are on the same page.
In many ways, the reactions (and overreactions) of Mac Jones' performance in the dismal 38-3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday are a microcosm of the Patriots' season, and it's fair to say it's even the last three. The post-Tom Brady era has left an unfamiliar sense of instability in the quarterback room over the years; from the saga that was Cam Newton, to the constant wonder if Mac Jones could be the rightful heir to the throne, to a glimmer of hope with Bailey Zappe in late October 2022.
We knew Dallas, having lost to the less-than-impressive Arizona Cardinals the week prior, would channel their inner fire to ensure they weren't humiliated again. While their offense impressed, it was clear there was one catalyst for the Cowboys' impressive defensive stats on Sunday.
His name is Mac Jones. And there's a sentiment growing among New England fans and pundits that he's no longer "the guy."
Quick hits before we get into our Mac Jones & BB rant:
This was a dismal day for injuries. Rookie DB Christian Gonzalez dislocated his right shoulder, and his return is TBD pending a medical evaluation when the Pats return to Foxboro. Matt Judon is dealing with a biceps tendon issue, and his fate is yet to be determined. There's a case to be made that Judon & Gonzalez were the best players on the field this year.
3 penalties from Mike Onwenu marked his career high - all in one half. He was rung up for 2 false starts and a holding penalty, costing the Patriots 20 key yards in the first half. Onwenu, who has been trying to earn a consistent starting role on the offensive line, had the worst game of his career today.
The 28-3 halftime deficit was the largest in that category of Bill Belichick's 24-year career as a head coach, including the regular season and playoffs.
Mac is saying the right things, but not executing
"I'm definitely disappointed in myself," Mac Jones told the media after the game. "I feel like I can play a lot better. I put a lot into it and I feel really bad. I let my team down, let the coaches down, the whole organization, the fans...everybody. I have to put a better product out there to beat good teams."
I don't doubt that this comes from a sincere place. Mac Jones is visibly better than he has been in years past; he seems to have leaned out, become more athletic, and added some strength and quickness. But aside from a couple of big plays, Mac has generally not executed at the level his supporters were expecting from him this year.
Take a glimpse at the offense. The Pats have put together four straight subpar performances as far as getting points on the board: 20 in Week 1 against Philadelphia, 17 in Week 2 against Miami, 15 in Week 3 against the Jets, and an atrocious 3 points in Week 4 against Dallas. That's the fewest through 4 games since 2000, when they only racked up 51 in Belichick's first season as the Patriots head coach.
Jones looked the best in Week 1, tossing 3 touchdowns and 316 yards. Unfortunately, that's the closest he's sniffed to a good game so far this year. In the 3 games since the 25-20 loss to Philadelphia in Week 1, he's thrown only two more touchdowns, has been intercepted three times, and has thrown for an average of under 200 yards-per-game.
It all crashed and burned today. Over a span of four drives, Mac Jones put together arguably his worst sequence as a professional quarterback.
Drive 1: Doesn't convert a QB sneak on 4th-and-1
Drive 2: Hit from behind, scoop-and-score by DAL's Leighton Vander Esch
Drive 3: Three-and-out
Drive 4: Pick-sixed by DAL's DaRon Bland
There were countless bad passes, including another pick from DaRon Bland later in the game, but what is shocking is Mac's lack of progress in addressing the things he has proclaimed as his own weaknesses. Is he completing passes downfield, is he stopping throwing while moving backwards, or is he becoming more aggressive with his style of play? I can't say that he's proven any of these.
Pulse check (Sun, Oct 1 @ 11pm): I think we're approaching the end of the Mac Jones stint, and the Bill Belichick era.
Bill has been notoriously short and abbreviated with media, but this was sad. There are no answers in Foxboro at the moment for how they fix this; but it's clear that there is some sort of disconnect with this team, what they aim to accomplish, and how to accomplish it. While I don't doubt that Mac Jones could be an NFL quarterback, it is not going to work out with the New England Patriots. They need a home run and to restore things in Foxboro.
And for the clincher - I believe that means Bill goes with him. Belichick is NFL royalty, among the best two or three coaches to ever live. It's clear, though, that the process is not working at this point in time. Regardless of who is calling plays, regardless of who is throwing the football, and regardless of who's there to catch it...it's an unsustainable system.
If the Pats don't confront these truths, it'll catch up to them. Maybe it even already has.