Coming off one of the better rookie quarterback seasons in recent memory, expectations were high for Mac Jones entering Year 2 with the New England Patriots. But while he did show some progress in his ability to lead the team’s offense, his sophomore campaign as a whole was a difficult one.
The challenges started in the offseason, when the Patriots lost long-time offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to the Las Vegas Raiders. Installing Matt Patricia and Joe Judge as McDaniels’ replacements was an ambitious plan, but one that did not work out as planned: the unit failed to show proper growth throughout the year.
As a result, Jones’ numbers took a step back compared to his encouraging first season as a pro. He finished the season with 288 completions on 442 attempts for 2,997 yards, 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. His completion percentage (67.6 to 65.2), yards per attempt (7.3 to 6.8) and yards per game (223.6 to 214.1) all decreased from 2021 to 2022, and he looked visibly uncomfortable and upset with the operation on several occasions.
Additionally, Jones also had to miss three games with a high ankle sprain suffered in Week 3 against Baltimore. The injury — coupled with a concussion suffered by veteran Brian Hoyer — gave fourth-round rookie Bailey Zappe a chance to earn some playing time, and he made he most out of it.
This, in turn, led to some vocal support for Zappe from the Foxborough Faithful: Patriots fans cheered for him to take over on several occasions, even though he only did so once (Jones’ first game back in Week 7).
Still, it was another challenge the former first-round draft pick had to overcome in 2022. But while Jones was not satisfied with his progress that year, and the team as a whole fell short of expectations with an 8-9 record and out of the playoffs, he still enjoys the support of his teammates — support that was verbalized following New England’s season-ending loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
“He’s battled all year,” said fellow team captain David Andrews after the 35-23 game. “Faced some adversity, dealing with injury. Part of this business and league. He battled all year. So, appreciate the fight and the effort he put forth this week and all year.”
Also speaking highly of Jones was running back Damien Harris, who already spent some time with him at the University of Alabama.
“He’s an ultimate competitor. He’s an ultimate leader, ultimate teammate, ultimate friend,” Harris said. “Having the opportunity to play with him in college and then come here and just continue to watch him progress, watch him grow, it’s been special to watch.”
Both Andrews and Jones have been with the Patriots since before Jones arrived in 2021. But even the new arrivals this offseason showed they have his back following a difficult campaign.
Among them was wide receiver DeVante Parker, who himself had to deal with some adversity in 2022.
“Mac, he’s a tough guy. A lot of toughness in him,” said Parker, who missed three games with a concussion before his return in Week 18. “He trusts us, and you saw it [on Sunday], he’ll just throw it up, 50-50 chance. And when we’re making plays, that just gives him a lot of confidence in us.”
Another offseason arrival, rookie guard Cole Strange, mentioned a different aspect of Jones’ performance in 2022. Speaking to reporters during the final media availability of the season, one day after the loss in Buffalo, he pointed to his work ethic.
“He’s got a really, really great work ethic,” Strange said while cleaning out his locker. “There were so many times where I remember I was here ridiculously late for no reason, like later than I should have been. And he was still watching film or something, or getting treatment. He’s got a really great work ethic. I got a lot of respect for him.”
Also speaking to the media on Monday was wide receiver Jakobi Meyers, Jones’ favorite target the last two seasons.
Meyers went in a different direction entirely when speaking about his QB, pointing to the chants for Bailey Zappe as a vivid memory from the season — and one that showed Jones’ abilities to block out the noise.
“He just showed who he was as a person. Not even just as a football player,” Meyers said. “One of my memories from the year was just seeing him out there playing while you hear people chanting another quarterback’s name. That’s something that’s tough to deal with, but he didn’t really complain. He strapped his chin strap up the next play and went back to work. I’m proud of him.”
Despite some speculation that Jones’ starting position on the team might be in danger heading into 2023, the expectation is that the team will continue building around him in hopes of getting the offense to a higher level of play again. One part of this process will likely be a reshuffling of coaching personnel with both Patricia and Judge potentially reassigned to different positions in the organization.
Whether or not those changes will lead to the desired results remains to be seen. What is not in question, though, at least for now, is Jones’ status on the team: he is one of its leaders — something that did very much not change in 2022.