New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones played arguably the worst game of his career against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. The third-year passer completed 12 of 21 passes for 150 yards, while also turning the ball over three times.
Jones was strip-sacked while trying to escape the pocket, with the loose ball returned for a Dallas touchdown. He later threw a pick-six and had another pass intercepted in the third quarter.
It was a low point for the Mac Jones era. The question now becomes how to get back on the relatively promising track the young QB was on earlier in the year.
For Jones, it’s all about eliminating the mistakes he made against the Cowboys.
“It’s kind of the trend of the year so far: just staying on track on first and second down, and eliminating those bad plays that I had,” he told WEEI’s Jones & Mego on Monday. “Really, 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.”
On Sunday, Jones failed to do that on multiple occasions. Instead, he appeared to play “hero ball” — a brand of football not suited to his particular skillset — while trying to rally his team back from yet another early deficit.
The result was a series of questionable decisions and plays beyond those three turnovers. For head coach Bill Belichick, however, Jones’ decision making in general does not appear to be too big a concern.
“Everything gets highlighted by one or two plays, one way or another,” he said on Monday. “In general, I think he makes pretty good decisions. He sees things well, but obviously, as a team, we can’t win turning the ball over three times in a game, two for touchdowns. We’ve got to do a better job of that. That’s everybody’s responsibility. The quarterback’s part of it, so is everybody else.”
Turnovers have been one of the Patriots’ biggest issues over the first four weeks of the season. In total, they have given the ball away seven times versus only two takeaways. Their minus-5 turnover differential is ranked 27th in the NFL at the moment.
Of the 13 teams in the league with a negative scoring differential at the moment, only two — the Kansas City Chiefs and Detroit Lions — currently have a winning record to show for. The Patriots, as opposed to those teams, do not appear to function well enough on the offensive side of the ball right now to overcome those problems.
Continuing to give the ball away could therefore very well turn out to be their fatal flaw in 2023. Naturally, Jones is trying to emphasize the issue even more.
“What you emphasize is what you get — a coach told me that a long time ago,” he said. “Whatever you put an emphasis on is what you’re going to see improvement on. We definitely emphasized it and as players, and me especially, we just have to do a better job of it. The ball is job security, I understand that. Really, it’s time to make action on that quickly.”
So, what in particular can Jones do to turn talk into game reality?
“For me, really, it’s about getting the ball out on time and just sticking to my reads and not turning the ball over. That’s what I’m going to focus on,” he said. “Whenever you play like that something went wrong. Just trying to move forward. I’m glad we watched it, but at the same time I’m excited to move on and go against the Saints.”
Jones will get his chance at redemption on Sunday versus a New Orleans team coming off a lopsided loss itself. And despite the questions surrounding his play in Week 4, there will be no change in status: he will remain the Patriots’ starting quarterback.
Bill Belichick said so himself after the game, that saw Jones get pulled in favor of second-stringer Bailey Zappe in the third period. He sang the same tune on Monday when he claimed that he would “doubt anything would change significantly” in regards to how first-team reps are divided up between the two passers in practice.
Belichick did appear to leave the door open a bit to Zappe’s workload increasing — “We’ll talk about that. I don’t know. We haven’t gotten to that point yet.” — but anything but Jones continuing as New England’s QB1 would be a major surprise. Of course, as the former first-round draft pick himself said: the ball is job security.
Accordingly, the pressure is on him to perform and help get his team out of its current slump.
“You can’t play like that and feel good about it. But I do feel like we have a really good team,” he said. “I have a great respect for the guys in the locker room. I just have to do a better job playing good football. For me, that just starts with staying positive and learning what I can do better. I know I’m going to fight, I know they’re going to fight. That’s all we can ask for.”