What’s Mac Jones’ signature performance as a member of the Patriots? And by that, we mean one game that saw both Jones play very well and New England defeat one of the NFL’s top teams — with no caveats.
Through 26 games in the Alabama product’s young career, there still aren’t any clear favorites.
Jones nearly got it Thursday night in Minnesota. The sophomore quarterback racked up a career-high 382 passing yards while throwing two touchdowns and zero picks against the Vikings, and played well from start to finish in a hostile environment. If you’re into Pro Football Focus grades, Jones posted an 88.0, his highest of the season and the fourth-highest of his career. Had the Patriots finished the job at U.S. Bank Stadium (perhaps they would’ve had Hunter Henry’s touchdown not been overturned), Jones would’ve been able to put a large, debate-free feather in his NFL cap.
But New England didn’t seal the deal, eventually suffering a self-inflicted 33-26 loss to a Vikings team that, while perhaps overrated, now is 9-2 and two weeks ago beat the Buffalo Bills in their own stadium. And though Jones was very good Thursday night, he wasn’t so good in defeat that you can confidently say he made some sort of statement. This wasn’t like Josh Allen’s near-comeback against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season.
“I think we all played with effort and toughness, and that’s all you can ask for,” Jones told reporters after the game. “Want to be able to score more points and win the game, so that’s all that I care about. That’s all that we care about is winning, and we didn’t do that (Thursday).”
So, the search for Jones’ signature game continues.
And you have to go back to last season for any performances that stack up with what he did in Minnesota. From where we’re standing, there are four candidates: two in victories, two in losses.
Week 4: 19-17 home loss to Buccaneers (65.4 PFF grade)
In the fourth game of his career, Jones went toe-to-toe with Brady, completing 31 of 40 passes for 275 yards, two touchdowns and an interception under rainy skies in Foxboro, Mass. It was extremely impressive, and Jones probably deserved to win. But frustratingly conservative play-calling — plus Brady being Brady at the end — prevented a Patriots victory.
Week 6: 35-29 home overtime loss to Dallas Cowboys (92.5 PFF grade)
Jones wasn’t asked to do much in this game, only throwing 21 passes, but he completed 15 of them for 229 yards and two touchdowns to go along with one pick. But this game was memorable for the guts Jones showed at the end. After throwing a late pick-six to Trevon Diggs, Jones responded with a 75-yard touchdown to Kendrick Bourne to give New England a three-point lead with just over two minutes left. However, the Patriots defense cratered at the end of regulation and in overtime, once again preventing Jones from getting a signature win.
Week 10: 45-7 home win against Cleveland Browns (92.5 PFF grade)
Jones was great in this game, completing 19 of 23 passes for 198 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Statistically, you could argue it’s his best performance. But the reality is it came against the Browns, who never threatened to make the game difficult. It’s not Jones’ fault that Cleveland was awful, but the quality of the opponent is a worthy caveat.
Week 12: 32-23 home win over Tennessee Titans (51.9 PFF grade)
Jones completed 23 of 32 passes for 310 yards and two scores to go along with zero picks as the Patriots beat one of the AFC’s best teams. However, he left some plays on the field — reflected in the PFF score — and the Titans were without Derrick Henry, Julio Jones and A.J. Brown, among others. You could argue Jones and the Patriots weren’t all that impressive in this game, and that Tennessee left Gillette Stadium with a moral victory.
Honorable mention: 47-17 wild-card road loss to Bills (76.0 PFF grade)
Jones showed a lot of toughness in his playoff debut, completing 24 of 38 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns to go along with two interceptions, neither of which were his fault. The 2021 first-round pick overcame brutally cold temperatures and never gave up despite Buffalo steam-rolling the Patriots from the jump. It was the kind of performance that should make Patriots fans feel confident Jones will put his best foot forward in his next playoff game. Still, you can’t say you delivered your signature game when your team loses by 30 points in the postseason.
Obviously, there’s a common theme here.
In all of those games, Jones either put up big numbers against bad and/or undermanned teams, or circumstances beyond his control heavily contributed to a Patriots defeat. That’s not to say Jones is without blame in those losses, as the Vikings game saw him take a few unnecessary sacks and show poor clock management at the end of the first half. If Jones wants to become one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, he eventually will have to put the team on his shoulders and be so good that it won’t matter what the other side does.
But the fact of the matter is since the start of last season, Jones and the Patriots still haven’t been able to put it all together in a convincing victory against a marquee opponent.
“You try not to look at the results,” Jones said Thursday night. “But sometimes when you look back you just wish it went a different way, and a lot of those things you can control; some of them you can’t. Definitely wanted it to go the other way, but got to keep working and coming together and just continue to build off adversity.”
The good news is that Jones will have an opportunity to deliver his elusive signature performance next Thursday night when the Patriots host the Bills. If he and New England follow up Thursday’s semi-encouraging effort in Minnesota with a win over Buffalo, it’ll be awfully difficult to find any fault the next morning.