Make no mistake about it: the New England Patriots simply refused to win this game.
The Miami Dolphins (especially head coach Brian Flores) deserve a lot of credit for their gameplan and especially their execution. From the first offensive series, the Dolphins set a fast-paced tempo hinging on widening the Patriots defense and testing their lateral speed.
And it certainly didn't help that New England achieved the most dubious triumvirate in football: turnovers, penalties, and constant third down situations. Yet, in the midst of a downpour of yellow laundry, Mac Jones was a ray of sunshine.
Jones was a maestro under center; his virtuoso was a patient harmony of precise quick throws, piercing line drives, and rainbows.
Though he delivered a few errant throws in terms of placement, he made the correct reads on virtually every play. His poise in the pocket and ability to avoid pressure while keeping his eyes downfield was impressive. Many young quarterbacks (and even veterans, for that matter) are too eager to leave the pocket after a few seconds, even if it remains clean; Jones showed the maturity to stay in, maneuver, and deliver strikes.
In accordance with the Patriots' offensive philosophy from 2000-2019, Jones simply took what the defense gave him. Against rotating blitzes, he attacked the holes; against soft zones he hit his spot routes; against lighter pass rushes, he took his time and delivered lasers downfield.
One specific moment that stands out as a testament to Jones' command of the offense came late in the first half. While going through pre-snap checks, Jones noticed that a Miami corner was poised to blitz. He calmly called for the ball and immediately delivered a strike to the receiver out wide on a hitch, right in the void left by the blitzing defensive back.
Jones' ball placement showed a great deal of decisiveness. His late-developing crossers seemed to be purposely thrown low to protect receivers, and his throws to sticks routes were thrown away from defenders -- such as the important third down conversion to tight end Jonnu Smith in clutch time in which Jones placed the throw away from linebacker Jerome Baker.
The cherry on top of Jones' performance was his flash of electric playmaking on the run. On a play called back by a penalty, Jones stepped up in the pocket to evade a sack and delivered a frozen rope to Kendrick Bourne far downfield.
Again and again, the New England offense failed to stay ahead of the sticks. And yet Jones kept answering the call, going 9/12 for 89 yards on third downs. As such, with a combination of poise, preparation, and anticipation, Jones put together a promising start that was ultimately marred by passive play-calling and poor execution.
However, what stood out to me the most about Jones' debut was his demeanor. Though his first career passing snap was tumultuous, he showed immediate resiliency. After his first touchdown pass, he refused to take the ball from his first touchdown, later stating,
"It doesn’t really matter. It’s just one touchdown. We have to score more. It’s not like the game was over right there. We gotta do better in the red zone and get more touchdowns. And we will."
After guard Shaq Mason was called for a blindside block, negating a major play, Jones consoled his teammate. And most impressively, after Damien Harris' game-losing fumble, Jones continued to encourage the offense to lock in for a potential game-winning drive.
The control that Jones oozes is abnormal for such a young player -- and it will more than likely translate into results as the season evolves.
The fate of the 2021 Patriots' success hinges on one simple question: can Jones win in a shootout when needed? Though it's far too early for a definite answer, today's season debut showed incredible potential. It's not inconceivable that Jones could find himself at the helm of yet another perennially excellent Patriots offense.