“Thursday Night Football” games don’t tend to be the most aesthetically appealing affairs. This week’s was no exception.
The New England Patriots grinded their way past the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, winning 25-0 to improve to 7-4 on the season. It was the fifth consecutive victory for Bill Belichick’s club, which can take over first place in the AFC East with a Buffalo Bills loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.
This game followed a similar script to the Patriots’ Week 9 triumph over the Carolina Panthers, with New England’s heat-seaking defense (four sacks, 12 QB hits, four interceptions, one pick-six) and powerful ground game (136 rushing yards) leading the charge. As such, rookie quarterback Mac Jones was a supporting character.
Jones was efficient, though, completing 22 of 26 passes for 207 yards and one touchdown with one interception. Over the last two games, the Alabama product has completed a remarkable 83.7% of his passes.
As the Patriots enjoy a weekend off before shifting their focus to next Sunday’s marquee matchup with the AFC-leading Tennessee Titans, here are four thoughts on Jones’ latest outing:
— Jones was nearly flawless in the first half, quietly going 14-for-16 for 136 yards and a score. The majority of those throws were to targets within a few yards of the line of scrimmage, with just two of his first-half completions traveling 10 or more yards downfield.
The Patriots didn’t need Jones to attack downfield, though. They averaged 6.2 yards per play in the first half, largely thanks to their steamrolling backfield tandem of Damien Harris (10 carries, 59 yards) and Rhamondre Stevenson (12 carries, 69 yards).
Jones’ lone incompletion over the first two quarters came on an apparent miscommunication with tight end Hunter Henry. On third down from the Falcons’ 14-yard line, Henry broke his route off near the goal line as a pass from Jones sailed over his head. It was a rare red-zone miss for a duo that had hooked up for seven touchdowns over the previous seven games.
His touchdown went to a wide-open Nelson Agholor, who capitalized on a second-quarter coverage bust.
— If the Patriots averaged 6.2 yards per play in the first half, why did they head into the locker room up just 13-0? A combination of sacks and poor third-down execution.
New England went just 1-for-5 on third down before halftime, with the only conversion coming on a Jones sneak. And though the Patriots’ offensive line largely kept their QB unbothered, Atlanta did land two sacks with well-timed blitzes off the edge.
The first stuck the Patriots in a second-and-24 hole they couldn’t climb out of, punting two plays later. The second stalled the momentum of what had been an efficient two-minute drill. Jones proceeded to hit Jakobi Meyers for 10 yards on third-and-11, but the Patriots settled for a field goal as time expired in the first half.
— After the aforementioned completion to Meyers, Jones let 10 to 15 seconds drain off the clock before the Patriots took their final timeout and kicked a field goal. Jones was visibly frustrated as he walked off the field, and veteran backup Brian Hoyer could be seen talking with him on the bench between series.
FOX color commentator Troy Aikman viewed that as a rookie mistake by Jones.
“That was a little bit of his youth coming out,” Aikman said. “They wanted to run a quarterback sneak, get the ball hiked where they could pick up the first down, call a timeout, still have a little bit of time if they wanted to try to take a shot, and that’s why you saw Mac frustrated with himself.”
Had Jones rushed his team to the line for a sneak, the Patriots might have had time for a short at the end zone before sending Nick Folk out.
That wasn’t Jones’ only outburst, though. He also ripped his chinstrap off after a third-down sack — on a well-timed safety blitz by former Patriots defensive coordinator Dean Pees — spoiled what had been productive drive. New England managed only a field goal on that one, too, with Folk converting from 53 yards.
Folk, who’s been superb for the Patriots this season, went 4-for-4 on field-goal tries, upping his season total to 26-for-28. He did miss an extra point, though, his fourth of the year.
— Jones’ most glaring error came on the Patriots’ second possession of the second half.
One play after delivering a perfectly placed pass to Henry — easily his best of the night — to move the chains on third down, he tried to force a deep ball to tight end Jonnu Smith that was intercepted by cornerback A.J. Terrell.
Jones had played turnover-free football in three of the Patriots’ previous four games.