After the New England Patriots ended the regular season with a loss to the Miami Dolphins, Mac Jones looked and sounded like someone who’d been punched in the stomach.
The rookie quarterback agonized over the two turnovers he’d committed, both of which proved costly. He called his performance “super embarrassing.” For a self-described perfectionist, this wasn’t surprising behavior, even if he typically isn’t that outwardly emotional.
But six days later, shortly after his Patriots had suffered a far more humbling defeat, Jones espoused optimism. The 47-17 beatdown New England sustained at the hands of the Buffalo Bills in their wild-card playoff obviously stung, he said, but the young signal-caller’s focus already had shifted to next season.
In the words of his head coach, Jones was on to 2022.
“I think losing’s terrible, and none of us wanted to do that tonight,” he told reporters in his postgame news conference. “But there’s nothing we can do about it. There’s a lot to look forward to and be positive about and learn from. There’s nothing to hang our heads on. I’m super proud of the people that have helped me grow as a person — coaches, players, support staff and all that.
“There’s a lot to look back on and just learn, and there’s nothing to feel sorry about. It’s just a learning experience to get better for next year.”
Jones guided the Patriots to 10 wins and a playoff berth in his first NFL season, looking like the Offensive Rookie of the Year front-runner until late December. Though both he and his team faded down the stretch — New England lost four of its final five games, including Saturday’s, with Jones turning the ball over multiple times in all four — Jones is viewing this year as a springboard for future success. He believes he’ll continue to improve as he accumulates experience, comparing NFL quarterbacking to flying a plane.
“I think you get more comfortable with anything you do in life,” Jones said. “I always relate it back to being a pilot. Like, if you’re a pilot and you’ve only flown so many times, by the time you have hundreds of flight hours, it’s just an everyday thing for you. So for me, obviously I was a rookie, and I played like that sometimes, and I shouldn’t have.
“I can play better, and that’s my goal this offseason: to advance and bring the guys along with me. We have great players all around me, and I know we have a lot of progress to make, and I’ll just feel more comfortable with anything you do a second time around — schedule, routine, everything. There’s no excuses, but there’s a lot that goes into it besides one thing.”
Taking on a more prominent leadership role as he enters Year 2 seems to be high on Jones’ offseason to-do list.
“I think it just goes back to practice and holding everybody to a higher standard,” he said. “I know that I’m a rookie or whatever, but I could have done a better job of just holding everybody to that standard, myself included. I think we’ll make a lot of progress in the offseason with that and my leadership and just being myself. Sometimes it shows on the field, but it’s a result of how we prepare. We put a lot of effort into it; it’s not like we don’t do that. But I think the little things show up in the game.”
He added: “I could play better. A lot of guys would agree with me that we can push each other harder to get that product on the field. I think there will be a lot of strides this offseason to get there, just working together however we can. That’s going to show up next year.”
Jones threw two interceptions Saturday night — on the first Patriots possession of each half — but was not the reason New England suffered its worst postseason loss of the Bill Belichick era. He finished the game 24-of-38 for 232 yards and two touchdowns, leading two late scoring drives.
After the game, special teams captain Matthew Slater called Jones “the type of man that you hope to build around,” saying Patriots fans “should be excited about having No. 10 as their quarterback.”
“I do appreciate everyone on our team for having my back,” Jones said. “I wish I could have played better, and obviously, we want to win every game we play in. Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to have a really good offseason and funnel it into next year. That’s all you can do.”