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Spagnoli: On a night that was all about Tom Brady, Mac Jones stole the show

Related: Patriots rookie Mac Jones: ‘We don’t really do moral victories. Those are always forgotten’

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

On a rainy night in Foxboro, it was all about Tom Brady’s return. But in the end, it was really about the arrival of Mac Jones.

There weren’t many bigger stages than we saw Sunday for a rookie quarterback to handle; months of hype, nationally televised, and the return of the greatest player to ever put on the cleats. It was the type of game you typically see young quarterbacks crumble in, but Jones put together his best game to date.

Jones’ performance may have caught the league by surprise, but it certainly hasn’t surprised his New England Patriots teammates.

“He’s just relaxed,” wide receiver Kendrick Bourne told reporters after the game. “That’s what you want to see, like you don’t — I said it last week, you don’t want to see him in there like he’s nervous or scared and it’s not that. He’s saying the play call fluidly and feeling confident and he sounds like he’s confident and it looks like he’s confident when he goes through the plays.”

“The kid is dialed in, man,” said tight end Hunter Henry. “He’s continued to get better. Like Kendrick said, he’s super poised and handles himself tremendously. He never is down, never is too up — he stays very even-keeled throughout the game and he’s only going to continue to get better. That was a big-time game right there and I feel like he handled himself like he’s been there before.”

As for the outcome, moral victories aren’t accepted around New England, but let’s be real here for a second; the Patriots aren’t competing for a Super Bowl this season. Despite all the money spent and the first-round quarterback leading the charge, the Patriots have always been a year or two away from being true contenders in the AFC. It was a tough loss, but Jones went toe-to-toe and outdueled Brady — the guy who he spent his childhood idolizing — which is something to build on going forward.

Jones handled all the pressure and national attention like a true veteran. The rookie completed 31 of his 40 passes, at one point completing 19 straight en route to a 275-yard night with two touchdowns all while being hit 12 times by an aggressive Tampa Bay Buccaneers front seven.

In a game where nobody gave the Patriots a chance, Jones upped his play and earned the right to have the game in his hands at the end and came inches away from upsetting Brady on his night.

When reflecting at the end of each season, Bill Belichick typically picks one loss that is a turning point for his teams. Sunday night was one of those games that the Patriots can look back on. They battled the defending champs to the end and came three yards short of upsetting the Buccaneers and adding more drama to the most-hyped regular-season game of all time.

On a night that was supposed to be all about the guy who led two decades of dominance, the Patriots’ new franchise quarterback shined. Patriots fans may look back on Sunday night as the true arrival of their new franchise quarterback.