Six Thoughts On Mac Jones’ Performance In Patriots’ Playoff Loss To Bills

Jones' rookie season ended in humbling fashion

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January 15

Awful. Embarrassing. Baffling. Humiliating.

There aren’t enough negative adjectives to describe the way the New England Patriots 2021 season ended Saturday night, with a 47-17 road loss to the Buffalo Bills in the wild-card round of the NFL playoffs.

Blame for this historic defeat — which came amid single-digit temperatures at Highmark Stadium — lies with New England’s defense, which surrendered touchdowns on every Bills possession. The 47 points were the most ever allowed by a Bill Belichick-coached team in the postseason. The Patriots enter the offseason with major questions on that side of the ball.

They couldn’t get much going offensively, either. But rookie quarterback Mac Jones delivered a respectable performance in his playoff debut, completing 24 of 38 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.

It was far from a flawless night by Jones, who misfired on several throws in the bitter Buffalo cold and didn’t find the end zone until late in the third quarter. But miscues by the first-year signal-caller were far down the list of the Patriots’ issues in this one.

Here are six thoughts on Jones’ first postseason outing:

1. The Patriots played an awful first half in nearly every facet, but Jones actually started well. He made athletic plays to convert two third-and-longs on New England’s opening drive, scrambling away from pressure to find tight end Hunter Henry for 33 yards on third-and-14:

… and then took off and ran on third-and-10, picking up 16 yards with his legs to move the chains.

The latter came after Brandon Bolden dropped a wide-open pass that would have resulted in a 30-plus-yard gain and Jonnu Smith tipped a ball that appeared to be intended for Jakobi Meyers.

Jones’ scramble set the Patriots up with a first-and-10 from the Bills’ 34 as they looked to respond to Josh Allen’s game-opening touchdown drive. Jones sought to level the score one play later, heaving a deep ball into the end zone to Nelson Agholor.

The throw was on the mark — but so was Micah Hyde. The Bills safety covered more than 20 yards of ground to foil New England’s touchdown bid with a remarkable interception.

That pick — which can’t be blamed on Jones — halted any momentum the Patriots went generated. They went three-and-out on their second drive (and punted on fourth-and-1 from their own 34) then gained one first down on their third before punting.

All the while, Allen and Co. kept piling up piling up points. The Bills built an overwhelming 27-0 lead before the Patriots finally got on the board with a Nick Folk field goal in the final seconds of the first half. Allen was played a near-perfect game for Buffalo, going 21-for-25 for 308 yards and five touchdowns with no turnovers and adding 66 yards on six carries.

New England fell behind by double digits before halftime in each of its final four losses — a string of slow starts that submarined their season.

2. The first interception was not Jones’ fault. The second was.

The Patriots were moving the ball efficiently on the opening drive of the second half when Jones tried to force a short pass to a tightly covered Henry. Linebacker Matt Milano tipped the ball skyward, and it fell into the arms of cornerback Levi Wallace.

Including Saturday, the Patriots went 1-6 in games in which Jones turned the ball multiple times. When he committed one or zero turnovers, they went 9-2.

3. Just as they did when Buffalo won at Gillette Stadium in Week 16, the Patriots put themselves in far too many third-and-long situations. They faced third-and-6 or more eight times and third-and-10 or more three times.

Twice, pre-snap penalties created more difficult third downs, with a delay of game turning a third-and-15 into a third-and-20 and a flag for 12 men in the huddle turning a third-and-2 into a third-and-7.

In all, three of the Patriots’ five penalties were pre-snap infractions by the offense, illustrating the extreme lack of discipline that plagued this team throughout its late-season nosedive.

4. Wide receiver Kendrick Bourne spearheaded the Patriots’ first touchdown drive, ripping off a 43-yard catch-and-run on third-and-6 and hauling in a 3-yard touchdown from Jones on fourth-and-goal. Bourne also ran for 14 yards on a reverse, with Jones throwing a shoulder at defensive end Mario Addison to clear a path.

Bourne and Jones were two bright spots for New England, showing admirable fight even as their team trailed by four touchdowns.

The two hooked up for a second score with less than two minutes remaining, with that one also cominb on fourth-and-goal. Both touchdowns — well-placed touch passes into the corner of the end zone — followed off-target throws by Jones that hit off Meyers’ and Henry’s hands, respectively.

Bourne finished with a team-high seven catches on eight targets for 77 yards in a losing effort. Meyers had six on nine targets for 40 yards. No other non-running back caught more than one pass.

Henry and Agholor had one reception apiece. N’Keal Harry and Jonnu Smith weren’t targeted.

5. Jones clearly hit some sort of a rookie wall in the final month of the season. He was more mistake-prone, less accurate, less poised. Did the extended grind of an NFL season wear on him? Was it the colder weather? Defenses adjusting to take away his preferred routes and targets? Likely, it was some combination of those and other factors.

But on the whole, this was an impressive rookie season from the first-round draft pick. A less-than-stellar home stretch doesn’t change the fact Jones was the Offensive Rookie of the Year front-runner until mid-December. There are aspects of his game he must improve, of course, but the quarterback position is not one the Patriots need to be concerned about in the coming months.

6. It’s been nearly a decade since a rookie QB won a playoff game. The last to do so was Russell Wilson in the 2012 postseason. With no other rookies in this year’s playoff field, that drought will continue.

Thumbnail photo via Mark Konezny/USA TODAY Sports Images
New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones
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