LAS VEGAS — Sunday’s Patriots-Raiders thriller will be remembered for its astonishing finish, and rightfully so.
Just two previous games in NFL history had ended on a walk-off, game-winning fumble recovery for a touchdown — one in 1960, one in 1978 — and neither of those featured multiple baffling laterals when a simple tackle would have forced overtime. What transpired in those closing seconds at Allegiant Stadium was literally unprecedented.
And that’s not even factoring in the highly controversial Keelan Cole touchdown that tied the game in the final minute, setting the stage for Rhamondre Stevenson’s and Jakobi Meyers’ brain farts and Chandler Jones’ run to glory.
But those late-game dramatics overshadowed what otherwise would have been Sunday’s top Patriots takeaway: that this 30-24 New England loss might have been the worst game of Mac Jones’ pro career to date.
Facing a Las Vegas team that boasted the league’s 32nd-ranked pass defense by Football Outsiders’ DVOA, Jones was unusually erratic and inefficient. He completed just 41.9% of his passes (13 of 31), his lowest mark in 28 career starts. His dismal 3.6 yards-per-attempt average also was a personal low, and his 112 passing yards were the second-fewest in any game he’s started and finished. The only one with fewer was last year’s wind game in Buffalo, during which Jones famously attempted just three passes.
Jones on Sunday became the first quarterback in the NFL this season to throw at least 30 passes and average less than 4 yards per attempt.
“There’s a lot of things I could have done better in the game so we’re not even in that (late-game) situation,” he said after the game. “I don’t play very well and we’re in that situation — it’s just terrible.”
It wasn’t just the poor numbers, either. Jones was uncharacteristically inaccurate throughout the afternoon. He misfired on back-to-back throws to stall the Patriots’ first drive, sailing passes out of the reach of Tyquan Thornton and Meyers on out-breaking routes. Later, he overshot Meyers on a deep ball that hit off the wideout’s fingertips.
On one especially costly overthrow, Jones missed a wide-open Jonnu Smith in the end zone. Facing second-and-goal from the 1, Smith uncovered when safety Tre’von Moehrig fell, but Jones’ pass landed a yard out of bounds, giving his tight end no chance.
Jones was burned by receiver miscues and misfortune at times, with Kendrick Bourne and Hunter Henry both dropping third-down passes and his best ball of the game correctly ruled incomplete after Nelson Agholor couldn’t get both feet down in bounds on a sideline heave. There also was the goal-line touchdown to Meyers that was wiped out when the Patriots’ sideline called timeout before the snap, prompting yet another visible show of frustration from the increasingly animated Jones.
But these near misses don’t negate the fact that New England’s passing attack was nearly nonexistent against a Raiders secondary that ranks among the NFL’s worst — and that Jones’ own performance was a significant step down from the way he played just one week earlier in a 27-13 win over Arizona.
A 39-yard strike to Meyers that set up Stevenson’s go-ahead fourth-quarter touchdown and a well-placed 21-yarder to Thornton to convert an early third down represented more than half of Jones’ total yardage output against Las Vegas. Just four of his other completions gained more than 5 yards, with none picking up more than 13. The engine of New England’s offense was Stevenson, who ran for 172 yards and averaged 9.1 yards per carry in his return from an ankle injury.
Offensive line play also wasn’t a major problem for the Patriots, as it has been several games this season. Standout edge rushers Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones combined for five QB hits, but Mac Jones faced pressure on only seven of his 33 dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus, and wasn’t sacked. When throwing from a clean pocket, Jones completed just 11 of 25 passes for 90 yards, per PFF.
“We just have to do a better job,” head coach Bill Belichick said Monday morning in a video conference. “We’ve thrown the ball well. In other games, our completion percentage has been different than that. That’s not the standard, but just in general, we just have to do a better job.”
A lack of patience by Jones also might have contributed to the Patriots’ unfruitful red-zone trip, which featured three plays from inside the 2-yard line and a goal-line penalty. On fourth-and-goal from the 1, Jones snapped the ball before Smith was set, resulting in a false start that backed the Patriots up 5 yards and prompted them to settle for a short Nick Folk field goal.
The goal-line stand was the first the Raiders had mounted all season, having allowed opponents to score on 100% of their goal-to-goal opportunities before Sunday. The Patriots have the lowest red-zone touchdown rate of any NFL team and are 30th in goal-to-go situations. They’re also 29th on third down, going 2-for-13 against Las Vegas.
The capper on Jones’ forgettable outing came when he was run over by Chandler Jones on the game-winning touchdown — a missed tackle he said was “my fault.”
“Tough way to go out,” he said.
It’s been a tough season for the young Patriots passer, who’s been unable to replicate the promise of his impressive rookie year amid coaching turnover, inconsistent offensive line play, injuries and questionable play-calling. Among 33 qualified NFL QBs, only Baker Mayfield has a lower QBR through 15 weeks, and only Davis Mills, Mayfield, Zach Wilson and Kenny Pickett have lower passer ratings.
The 7-7 Patriots, who have relied on strong defensive play to prop up their Jones-led offense, remain alive in the AFC playoff race but likely will need to win at least two of their final three games to qualify, if not all three. They’ll host the defending AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals this Saturday before closing against the Miami Dolphins (home) and Buffalo Bills (road).