With all due respect to preseason caveats, Mac Jones isn’t playing well. In fact, if you’re being honest about it, you have to admit the Patriots quarterback has regressed in his second training camp.
Should New Englanders push the panic button? No, but concerns are valid.
Jones has looked alarmingly skittish and uncomfortable in the pocket throughout the summer. Sure, the Patriots’ struggling offensive line has given up a ton of pressures, but Jones also has rushed throws and bailed out of pockets when there’s been good protection.
If it were Sam Darnold out there, Patriots fans would say Jones has been “seeing ghosts.”
Those trends continued Friday night in New England’s preseason loss to the Raiders. After the Patriots put forth an encouraging performance in their second joint practice in Las Vegas, there was reason to believe Jones and the starting offense could show well over a few series and end the preseason on a high note. However, it’s impossible to be anything other than discouraged by what happened at Allegiant Stadium.
New England’s first drive started well enough, with Jones finding DeVante Parker on a slant for eight yards. But after that, Rhamondre Stevenson lost 4 yards on a run to the left end and Jones was sacked for a 13-yard loss. The offensive line’s ongoing struggles with outside-zone runs popped up on the Stevenson loss, but the protection largely was fine on third down.
Instead of stepping up in the pocket, a jittery Jones bailed to his right and ran into defensive end Malcolm Koonce, who was being shoved to the ground by Mike Onwenu.
That’s not Onwenu’s fault.
The second drive also got off to a strong start, with Jones making up for a first-down Onwenu holding penalty by completing consecutive 5-yard passes and scrambling for 13 more. Then, after Ty Montgomery suffered an ankle injury, Stevenson rattled off a pair of solid runs to give New England a first down in Raiders territory.
Things were moving in the right direction — until Jones through one of the ugliest interceptions of his career.
Again, if we’re being honest, Jones looked more like a rookie on that play than he did at any point last season. Also, did we mention the Raiders were playing their backups Friday night?
The Patriots’ starting offense went three-and-out on its next drive, which in most cases probably would’ve been the group’s final showing in a preseason finale. But Bill Belichick, perhaps intent on seeing the offense show signs of life, sent Jones and the starters back out for the fourth drive.
And they responded. Jones completed his first three passes to move the ball into Vegas territory, and later completed balls to Kendrick Bourne (12 yards) and Hunter Henry (16 yards). But Jones then showed iffy pocket presence on a Tashawn Bower sack and, after a touchdown throw to Parker was wiped out by an offensive pass interference penalty, unnecessarily went scrambling for his life before chucking a ball out of bounds. The protection wasn’t great, but neither was Jones’ reaction to the pass rush.
And so ended a mostly ugly training camp and preseason for Jones and New England’s first-team offense. Preseason stats don’t matter, but these are hard to ignore:
Jones did his usual Mac Jones thing after the game, but he also didn’t sugarcoat the struggles.
“It wasn’t very good out there,” he told reporters. “We’re all gonna come together and be strong. I hate saying it’s the preseason, but there’s a lot you can learn from preseason games. It’s not like we’re in the middle of a season here. So, you wanna peak when you wanna peak and, right now, we’re where we are. …
“Everybody’s working hard, but it doesn’t matter if you can’t perform on game day.”
He also addressed his increasing skittishness in the pocket.
“I gotta do a better job of just stepping up and delivering the throws,” he said. “… I gotta do a better job of just getting the ball out and stepping up in the pocket instead of running around and putting my line in a bad position.”
Jones does a good job of saying the right things and leading by example. But he at times has worn his frustrations on his sleeve this summer, and did so again on Friday when he reportedly slammed a tablet after the third drive.
“I think I care a lot about this game,” he said. “I sometimes get a little bit too passionate. But, at the same time … don’t let it carry over. And I don’t think I did that. After the interception and all that, I try to just clean the plate and start fresh. Sometimes that’s getting the frustration out and moving on. So, obviously, I need to do a better job of just playing the next play and don’t let one little play get frustrating.”
To be fair, it hasn’t been all bad from Jones this summer, and he still is more than capable of becoming a true franchise quarterback for the Patriots. Plus, many of his struggles this summer can be explained by coaching turnover, poor offensive line play and the installation of a new scheme.
But Patriots fans should take no comfort in that. Those very same things have derailed the careers of quarterbacks arguably more talented than Jones (see: Mayfield, Baker).
Nothing that’s happened this summer is irreversible, and the Patriots have the head coach and the talent necessary to ensure things are corrected before Week 1. But they have a long way to go, and getting their struggling quarterback right should be priority No. 1.
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