The New England Patriots are in a difficult situation. Not only are they sitting at 1-2 after dropping their home opener to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, that game also saw starting quarterback Mac Jones go down with an injury in the fourth quarter.
Jones has since been diagnosed with a high ankle sprain that has been characterized as “pretty severe” and is likely to keep him out for multiple weeks. While a concrete timetable has yet to be set, the Patriots will have to find a way to operate without the most important player on their roster for the foreseeable future.
Needless to say, the challenge is an immense one. How the team will respond to it, might very well decide its fortunes this year — at least according to Matthew Slater.
“I do believe that we’ll respond the right way,” the team captain said during a media conference call on Monday. However, he also did not mince any words.
“We’re very early on in our season here, and if we don’t handle it the right way, this thing can spiral away from us. Needless to say you lose a player at that position of that caliber, it is challenging. But we have confidence in all the quarterbacks on our roster. Obviously, coach has them on our roster for a reason.”
Even if Jones does not end up on short-term injured reserve, which would cause him to miss at least four weeks, the Patriots will have to hand the keys to the offense over to somebody else in the short term. That somebody will likely be veteran backup Brian Hoyer, with fourth-round rookie Bailey Zappe moving up into the QB2 spot.
Hoyer, who Slater referred to by his first name, Axel, has considerable experience in the league. However, he has started only 39 games in 14 seasons — including one as a Patriot in 2020.
Still, he is the frontrunner to help replace Jones and keep the offense afloat. The pressure is not just on him but the entire team, though. The Patriots as a whole, after all, have struggled with consistency even before Jones went down on Sunday: they are 1-2 for a reason, with self-inflicted mistakes in all three phases a major contributing factor.
For Slater, this is all part of the process. And he believes that keeping the trust in it will be key heading into the difficult stretch ahead.
“We have to continue to trust the process, stay the course,” he said. “I’m really excited about the group of players that we have, the buy-in that we have. The physicality with which we’ve been playing with has been really encouraging, the urgency has been encouraging.
“I think that if we stay true to our process, true to ourselves, that’s going to really pay dividends for us in the long haul. It’s a long season, so there’s going to be some good, some bad — hopefully more good when the dust all settles.”