Mac Jones finished up his audition for the New England Patriots’ starting quarterback job Sunday night. Whether he landed the role remains to be seen.
After the Patriots closed out the preseason with a 22-20 win over the New York Giants at Gillette Stadium, head coach Bill Belichick said he had yet to decide whether Jones or Cam Newton would start the regular-season opener against the Miami Dolphins on Sept. 12.
Despite Jones’ promising performance in his first NFL summer, the preseason rep distribution makes Newton the QB1 favorite, at least to open the season. The veteran incumbent started all three exhibition games, and Jones did not play a single snap behind the Patriots’ starting offensive line in the final two.
“I’m here to play any role that I can play and help any way I can,” the first-round draft pick told reporters after Sunday’s preseason finale. “I’m going to be ready whenever my time comes. We’ve got work to do, we’ll get the things fixed, and then we’ll just keep rolling.”
Jones enjoyed his most efficient outing yet against the Giants, completing 10 of 14 passes for 156 yards and opening the second half with back-to-back touchdown drives. His 17-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah Zuber three minutes into the third quarter was the first of his NFL career.
Two of Jones’ incompletions were dropped — one by Gunner Olszewski, one by Zuber in the end zone — and another was batted at the line. His 11.1 yards-per-attempt average was his best of the preseason, up from 7.6 last week against the Philadelphia Eagles and 4.6 against the Washington Football Team.
Jones — who also took four sacks, was flagged for delay of game and criticized himself postgame for holding the ball too long — was asked whether he believes he’s done enough to earn the starting job.
“I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities to play,” the 22-year-old replied, “and I can improve on everything that I want to improve on. So I think just learning from (Brian) Hoyer, Cam, Jarrett (Stidham) — anybody I can. Just listening to Josh (McDaniels) and his coaching. There’s a lot of work to do, but I think I’ve made progress. But honestly, the only thing that matters is today. Then tomorrow, I’ll focus on tomorrow. But I think the past is the past, and we’re kind of moving on to the new season here.”
Regardless of who Belichick tabs to start against Miami in two weeks, Jones said he “learned at a young age (to) just prepare like the starter.” Belichick also has not ruled out using both quarterbacks as part of the same game plan.
“You don’t have to be the starter, but prepare, get in your routine,” Jones said. That’s something that Coach talked about today — ‘Hey, we’re going to be in this stadium again (when the Patriots visit the Jets in Week 2), just get in your routine.’ And that’s kind of what I did, just eat the same thing I eat every game day, kind of go about my business how I would. Then you kind of get into your routine, and that’s how you can get into the flow.”
Over his three preseason appearances, Jones completed 69.2 percent of his passes (36 of 52) for 388 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions, posting a passer rating of 97.3 and a yards-per-attempt average of 7.5.
Newton completed 14 of 21 passes in the preseason (66.7 percent), throwing for 162 yards and a touchdown with one interception, an 85.8 passer rating and a 7.7 yards-per-attempt average. He went 2-for-5 for 10 yards with a pick in two series of action against New York.
Jones said Newton, a former NFL MVP, has been a “great teammate” and “big mentor” for him.
“There’s no bad business in our quarterback room,” Jones said. “We’re all trying to help each other. And obviously, I played in college last year and I’ve never played in the NFL. So I’m here to learn from Josh, from Cam, from Hoyer, from everybody. They’ve seen a lot of football — whether they played or was a backup, they’ve seen a lot of NFL football, and they’ve been a great help to me.
“And I hope that I can help them whenever they ask for it. If I see something or I have to do something for them, I’ll do it, because I’m trying to be a great teammate. So, it’ll play out how it’s supposed to.”