One of New England Patriots first-round draft pick Christian Gonzalez’s most intriguing qualities coming out of college was his ability to quickly learn from mistakes and avoid them in the future. The arrow kept pointing up throughout his junior year at Oregon.
There was a time when Mac Jones appeared to be in a similar category.
When he entered the NFL out of the University of Alabama, he was lauded as a cerebral passer capable of making up for any athletic shortcomings with a sharp mind and strong decision making. Now in his third year as a pro, however, he is showing some concerning inconsistency in that area.
His current three-game stretch might be the worst of his career from that perspective. The numbers are obviously disappointing — 48-of-76, 460 yards, zero touchdowns, five interceptions, two lost fumbles — but they don’t tell the whole story.
What is especially worrisome is that Jones also is committing a cardinal sin of playing quarterback for Bill Belichick. He just keeps making the same mistakes.
In the second quarter of their game against the Las Vegas Raiders, the Patriots had finally started to build some momentum on offense. After going three-and-out on their first two possessions of the day, they had driven for a field goal and were in the process of again moving into scoring range.
Facing a 2nd-and-5 at the Las Vegas 30-yard line with just under four minutes on the clock, all options to cut into a 10-3 deficit at that time appeared to be on the table. Unfortunately for New England, that second down resulted in an interception.
Mac nearly put the offense in position to win the game, but he also had another ugly interception and should've had two— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) October 16, 2023
There aren't any great options behind him, but I don't know how much more of this he can get away with pic.twitter.com/NxsXxbTQQb
The play itself looked quite familiar. Jones escaping the pocket at the first sign of danger, drifting to his right, and throwing across the body also was an issue in a Week 4 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
That game, he got away with it the first time but was picked off on the second — a play that resulted in a pick-six. On Sunday, defensive back Tre’von Moehrig’s return was stopped after 22 yards. It was still enough to set up a Raiders field goal and increase the team’s lead to 10 points entering the half.
“Interceptions are part of the game, and I didn’t make a good throw,” Jones said after the game. “I was just trying to do too much and they got three points from it, and that sits on me.”
For Jones, it was yet another example of pressure messing up his process. Just like he did against the Cowboys, he attempted to do too much instead of being aware of the game situation.
He even spoke about just that after that 38-3 loss in Dallas.
“It just starts with me and just throwing the ball away or whatever I have to do to survive the down, and not make a bad play worse,” he said at the time.
On Sunday, he did just that and again put himself and the team as a whole in a difficult spot. It wasn’t the only time he did that versus the Raiders.
He attempted another pass across his body later in the game, on a 2nd-and-goal from the Las Vegas 13. Once more, he quickly bailed from the pocket to buy time — despite no pressure really being near him — and made a throw high school coaches all over the country are yelling at their QBs not to make. Jones did connect with Rhamondre Stevenson for a 6-yard gain, but the sequence as a whole was again messy from start to finish.
Jones again had little reason to leave the pocket, and went on to throw a dangerous pass he simply does not have the arm to pull off consistently. And while those physical limitations are nothing new, and also have been somewhat overstated throughout his NFL career, his tendency to make head-scratching decisions in pressure situations is a major problem.
Plays like this are why Jones’ hold on the starting quarterback position has become anything but firm. A lack of viable alternatives might be the only reason why New England has not pulled the plug on him just yet.
Of course, it goes without saying that the supporting cast is also not doing him many favors. From the offensive line continuing to see subpar play at three of five positions, to his receivers dropping big play opportunities in crunch time, Sunday was more of the same in that regard: a struggle across the board.
That being said, Jones’ football IQ and decision making were supposed to be his calling card entering the NFL — a key reason why he was drafted 15th overall in 2021. Recently, however, he has not been up to the task and it has cost him and the team.
If he wants to return to form, this is where he will have to start.