Going up against the Miami Dolphins on the road, the New England Patriots offense and starting quarterback Mac Jones were hoping to build on the momentum established in a win over Buffalo the previous week. Instead, they crashed back down to earth.
From the very start, the unit was unable to establish much of a rhythm. The first two drives saw only one first down, and it took a Kyle Dugger interception to set up the first score of the day. That touchdown pass to Kendrick Bourne did not kickstart the group, however, and instead it had to watch Miami first tie the game and then take a 14-7 lead.
The Patriots’ longest drive of the day up until that point could have cut into the deficit, but instead quarterback Mac Jones threw an interception in field goal range. Eight plays later, Miami was up 10 points — a deficit that proved to be too big to overcome.
“We just got behind the sticks early. Turned the ball over, obviously, weren’t good on third down,” tight end Hunter Henry said about the Patriots offense after the eventual 31-17 loss.
The Patriots ended the game with a mere 218 yards of offense, and were able to move the sticks just once on nine third-down plays.
“Just situational football wasn’t great today,” Henry continued. “We were able to capitalize on the first turnover, but the second turnover, we really needed to put points on there and just weren’t able to execute. They did some good things, too. I mean, you got to give them credit, too. I mean, they got — their D-line is really good up front. They are moving and making a lot of plays in the backfield that we need to be better on.”
There were issues across the board, but quarterback play once again stood near the top of the list.
Statistically, Mac Jones had an OK day. He completed 19 of 29 pass attempts for 161 yards with a pair of touchdowns. However, his interception to Miami cornerback Jalen Ramsey was a back-breaker at a moment New England was finally starting to string positive plays together.
“I knew the coverage, I knew everything. I just made a bad throw really late,” he said abuot the play after the game. “I didn’t really drive it. That’s what happens on that play, the guy either takes it and it’s a touchdown or the guy falls off and nothing happened. But you can’t do that as a quarterback, just throw it out of bounds or take the checkdown and move on.”
The play was not the only one that saw the third-year passer make a questionable decision. In the second half, after Anfernee Jennings recovered a fumble inside the Miami red zone, Jones appeared to get spooked by the pass rush — a common problem this season — and instead of throwing to a seemingly open DeVante Parker took a sack on third down.
The former first-round draft pick was not entirely immune to mistakes against Buffalo the previous Sunday, but he looked much more comfortable in the pocket and going through his reads. Versus the Dolphins, on the other hand, he was again up and down in the face of pressure.
Jones was not the only issue for the Patriots, though. In general, the group fell behind the sticks too often and was therefore moved from its schedule. As the first seven weeks of the season showed, it is not yet at a point in its development where it can consistently overcome that kind of adversity.
“We talked about it. Drives where there weren’t negative plays, we were able to stay on track, we had success,” said center David Andrews. “The drives where there were negative plays, and playing the game from not a serious advantage, it’s hard. It’s hard to overcome. You try to overcome them as best as you can, but the drives we had success we were able to stay ahead on down and distance, keep the ball moving forward.”
For the team’s quarterback, it all goes back to him.
“We just need a little more production from me, from everybody, and that’s where it starts: it starts with the quarterback. I can be cleaner on my reads and all that stuff,” Jones said.
Now, another trip to the drawing board awaits for him and the rest of the offense. At 2-6 and with their backs very much against the wall, however, the margin for error is very much non-existent at this point — and the urgency obvious: they need to find a way to get back on track, and fast.
Jones is very much aware of that.
“It’s hard, right? You don’t want to be here. You don’t want to be in this position,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we’re playing football and we got to go out there and figure it out.”