FOXBORO, Mass. — It’s been a weird 10 months for Mac Jones, to say the least.
Shortly after he and the Patriots suffered an ugly playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills, Jones watched offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels leave for the Las Vegas Raiders. Then, as the offseason progressed, Jones learned that his second year under center in New England would come under the tutelage of Matt Patricia, a former defensive coordinator, and Joe Judge, a former special teams coach.
Yet optimism remained high upon the start of the training camp. The Patriots’ offense looked decent during spring practices and even better during the first training camp practice. But it’s been nearly all bad for Jones and company since that point.
New England was dreadful on offense throughout camp and has been just as inconsistent during the regular season, especially in the red zone. Entering Week 13, the Patriots ranked 21st in yards per game and 18th in scoring — both down from last season. Their red-zone efficiency ranks 31st, trailed only by the Denver Broncos.
Along the way, Jones has battled injuries and immense scrutiny while knowing a large chunk of New England’s fanbase rather would see Bailey Zappe at quarterback. At times, it hasn’t been clear that even Bill Belichick is sold on Jones as the long-term answer at quarterback for the Patriots.
Despite it all, Jones has conducted himself in a manner that has impressed many of his teammates.
“He’s doing a great job, man,” tight end Hunter Henry said during a Monday afternoon news conference. “This year has been tough at times. Just going through an injury and battling his way back. It’s fun to see him have success and just the leader he is. We just continue to ride him throughout this whole year. He’s a stud. I’m glad he’s my quarterback. Glad he’s our quarterback. Excited to go out there and compete every single week with him.”
Jones earned praise for his leadership last season when he was a rookie. But the 2021 first-round pick took things up a notch during his first NFL offseason, later being voted as a captain by his teammates.
With the increase in responsibility has come a slight shift in Jones’ leadership style.
“I think it has changed, right?” Henry said. “Last year, you step into a role as a rookie. You kinda have to earn a little bit. You’re not just going to be a vocal leader all of a sudden. But I feel like this year it’s really stepped up. He’s a lot more vocal. Telling guys how he sees things so we can talk through things. That’s what it’s all about. We’re the guys that have to go out there and compete. He’s the guy that has the ball in his hands pretty much every play.
“So, I think his vocal leadership stepped up a ton. Just what he wants, what he sees, and communicating those things with us.”
How this season ends for Jones and the Patriots remains to be seen. So, too, does whether the adversity Jones has faced this season will make him better in the long run or ruin his confidence.
At this point, it sounds like Jones has handled things about as well as you could expect from a 24-year-old still playing in Tom Brady’s shadow.