As the late, great Prince Rogers Nelson once said: “All hail, the new king in town”
While the term ‘king’ may be a bit melodramatic, the current toast of New England is Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones.
For the New England Patriots, the 2021 season has been a bit of ebb and flow. After starting the season at 2-4, the Pats are winners of their past five games and are surging toward earning a spot in the postseason. In true New England fashion, this current collection of Patriots is winning with a familiar formula; savvy coaching, a strong defense and a versatile offense.
Despite New England’s running game being heralded as its offensive strength, Mac Jones has helped to ignite excitement into the team’s passing game. Throughout the Patriots current five-game winning streak, he has been consistently efficient, while showing flashes of top-level talent at the position. According to Pro Football Focus, the 23-year-old has a 87.2 PFF Grade, a 102.6 passer rating, and has compiled 1,069 passing yards. While his performance has not been perfect, Jones has instilled enough confidence in his teammates and coaching staff to earn their respect. As a result, he continues to rapidly emerge as a team leader.
The more things change, the more they say the same
Jones' comfort-level within the Patriots organization can be attributed to the foundation he received at the University of Alabama. Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban has long enjoyed a close professional and personal relationship with Pats’ head coach Bill Belichick. The two not only have similar coaching styles, but also share the standards to which they hold their players. Those who emerge as leaders in a Belichick, or Saban system, are those that demonstrate both skill and leadership.
For Jones, his leadership abilities may be attributed, in part, to the example he sets with his teammates. As he did at Alabama, he demonstrates a strong command of the playbook, but is also not afraid to mix it up, or even take a hit. In the early stages of the season, Jones often found himself under duress when attempting to complete his passes. This led to his being hurried, pressured and hit at an alarming rate. Still, the rookie showed tremendous resolve, as well as physical resilience. Though he may have taken a hard hit, Jones would immediately get back up to lead his team, even with the occasional spot of blood on his jersey. Physical toughness of that type is inherently inspirational.
Still, the quality that has perhaps most adequately prepared Jones for life in the NFL has been his mental fortitude. Though many rookies would be irreparably despondent after throwing a backbreaking pick-six, Mac Jones sees it as a challenge. In fact, the rookie was not about to be denied retribution for such an error in Week Six against the Dallas Cowboys. After failing to connect with receiver Kendrick Bourne, and finding Cowboys’ cornerback Trevon Diggs instead, the rookie once again sought Bourne in the open field. This time, the two would connect on a 75-yard touchdown, beating Diggs on a double move. Not only did Jones rebound from the costly miscue, he exorcised the demons by running nearly the same play, targeting the same receiver and challenging the same defensive back who had just returned his interception for a score. Again, much like his run to the National Championship with Alabama, Jones never lets the big moments get too big for him.
While Jones may exhibit the leadership qualities that will endear him to his Patriots teammates, his on-field prowess has him a near perfect fit in New England.
For all of the offseason discussion surrounding the Patriots desire to change their passing game, they are still operating under a very similar system to that which they ran while Tom Brady was taking snaps under center. The Patriots aerial attack remains timing-based, predicated on vertical routes and completions from quick, accurate throws.
During his time at Alabama, Jones was quite proficient at running this type of offense. With a strong supporting cast of playmakers around him, Jones was able to create plays by leading his receivers under the defense, releasing the ball quickly and delivering it accurately. This gave his playmakers the space they needed to catch and run with the football. Under the direction of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, the Patriots have been at their best when operating under the same modus operandi. Therefore, it is likely no coincidence that Jones became a New England Patriot. The quick-game still seems to be McDaniels’ preference, and Mac Jones has been the ideal choice to run it.
Dead-on ‘Bama Accurate
On the field, Jones has conducted the Patriots offense with command and accuracy. In his senior season with the Crimson Tide, Jones completed 77.4 percent of his passes, setting an NCAA record. Now at the helm in New England, Jones is showing the same precision, while taking it to the next level Through his first eleven games, the rookie has completed 70.2 percent of his passes. In fact, only two players have posted a higher completion percentage to date than Jones: Kyler Murray of the Arizona Cardinals (72.7%) and Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys (70.3%) Impressive company, considering that both Prescott and Murray are currently considered strong contenders for league MVP.
However, Jones is not simply relying on the quick accurate game to sustain his success. In New England’s Week Ten victory over the Cleveland Browns, the rookie had his best game as a pro. Jones finished the afternoon by throwing only four incompletions, while converting seven of nine third down attempts. He also had his first multi-touchdown game of his career, while showcasing his ability to sustain long drives, while also throwing deep and into tight coverage. As Jones tests his potential beyond his comfort zone, he continues to set the bar for his success higher with each passing moment.
The best is yet to come?
As a result, Jones finds himself piloting the Patriots to a mid-season renaissance. He is playing with admirable poise, strong pocket awareness, pinpoint accuracy and sound decision-making. For Patriots fans, it is a joy to see. However, it should not be surprising. Jones is exhibiting how he played at Alabama. He led the Crimson Tide, as he now leads the Patriots…inherently by example.
“I think that just happens naturally,” Jones told reporters last week. “You can't force yourself to be a leader, and it comes with time, and, obviously, doing the right thing all the time, and really good leaders, they're themselves. They don't try to be somebody else, and they just do what they are supposed to do, and they do it to the best of their ability.”
Yet, Jones will routinely give credit to his teammates for setting the tone for the team’s success, while building the camaraderie which allows him to reach his goals. Not only does Jones’ teammates believe in him, he fully believes in them.
“It’s great. I think we have a great group of guys and early on, you’re just trying to figure your way out with me in there and I’m trying to learn as best I can. But these guys have all played tons of football and I trust everybody on our offense. I feel like I can play better to you know, help them too. They’ve done a great job all year staying positive, and we all believe in each other and that’s the most important part. It’s the best team sport there is and I think our offensive unit really has that family feel to it and we love each other and we play together and we play for each other so we just have to keep doing that.” - Patriots quarterback Mac Jones
As the Patriots head into their pivotal Week Twelve matchup with the Tennessee Titans, Jones will be called upon to lead. While he will undoubtedly recall his experiences at Alabama to aid in his preparation, he knows that the only way to change, grow, and transform is to test the limits of his comfort zone. The rookie still has notable need for improvement in certain areas. However, as he continues to gain more comfort in the Pats offense, he provides greater evidence each week that the best is yet to come.