Let’s make this clear right off the top: No, Mac Jones did not play well in the Patriots’ bleep-show of a loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

The 38-3 defeat at AT&T Stadium probably was the worst game of Jones’ three-year New England career. His awareness was poor. His decision-making was awful. He gifted Dallas two touchdowns with a pair of dreadful second-quarter turnovers: a strip-sack scoop-and-score and a “no, don’t throw that!” pick-six.

Jones also threw a second interception after halftime and nearly had a third when he fired a pass straight into a defender’s chest while scrambling. The only surprise when Bill Belichick replaced him with Bailey Zappe with 18 minutes remaining was that Jones wasn’t pulled earlier.

Without the elite physical traits that most of the NFL’s top QBs possess, Jones’ recipe for success is taking care of the ball, limiting mistakes and using his renowned football IQ to read and manipulate defenses. He did none of those things against the Cowboys.

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But if we’re divvying up blame for the Patriots’ most lopsided loss of the Belichick era, the largest slice should go to the head coach, whose roster-building missteps haven’t given Jones much of a chance.

Consider this: Entering this past offseason, the Patriots’ clearest positional need was at right tackle, where they started four different players in 2022. Rather than sign a top-flight free agent or invest a premium draft pick to address that need, Belichick signed a couple of cheap veterans who began last season as backups and drafted a guard in the fourth round with the intention of moving him to tackle.

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How has that worked out? Predictably poorly. Calvin Anderson struggled in the first two games, then was benched in favor of Vederian Lowe, who arrived via trade just before cutdown day and entered the season with no NFL starting experience.

Lowe allowed eight pressures and two QB hits in New England’s Week 3 win over the Jets, according to Pro Football Focus, then let up nine pressures Sunday. That was the most any Patriots player had surrendered since the 2016 playoffs when Nate Solder was credited with 13 in Super Bowl LI. Lowe also was beaten cleanly on Jones’ sack-fumble, though Jones should have done more to protect the football.

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The Patriots could be getting Riley Reiff back from injured reserve this week, and there’s a chance they’ll eventually re-sign Conor McDermott, whom they released with an injury settlement last month. But they both struggled this summer before their respective injuries, so how much help would that really provide?

Overall, the Cowboys’ talented defensive front pressured Jones on half of his 24 dropbacks. Line play has been a major problem for the Patriots all season — and not the only one.

New England’s star-less receiving corps also struggles to get open and make plays downfield. Wideouts JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kendrick Bourne and DeVante Parker and tight end Hunter Henry — one of the lone bright spots of New England’s passing game — all rank 80th or worse among qualified NFL pass-catchers in average separation, per Next Gen Stats.

Tight end Mike Gesicki ranks 13th but doesn’t have much to show for it, with 10 receptions and no touchdowns in four games (and a pass that went off his hands in the end zone against Dallas). Rookie receiver Demario Douglas, who ranks 25th, has shown more explosiveness than any of his veteran teammates but has been on the field for just 26% of offensive snaps.

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Gesicki and Smith-Schuster were the Patriots’ marquee offseason additions on offense, and neither has met expectations thus far. The latter has been especially disappointing, with just one catch in each of the last two games and 11 total for the season. The player he was signed to replace, Jakobi Meyers, has 18 for the Las Vegas Raiders despite missing one game and playing another with a backup rookie quarterback.

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Belichick, who surely saw Smith-Schuster’s obvious physical limitations on the practice field this summer, had a chance to beef up this group by shelling out for DeAndre Hopkins. But he declined.

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Maybe Tyquan Thornton can help when he returns from IR, but given the second-year pro’s track record, we’ll believe that when we see it.

With those deficiencies up front and out wide, Jones looked Sunday like a player who was trying to do too much. The legitimate improvement he showed in Weeks 1-3 vanished, with disastrous results. He won’t — and shouldn’t — lose his starting job this week, but another outing or two like that could get him benched for good.

Jones needs to perform better than he did against Dallas. The mistakes he made were as inexcusable as they were catastrophic. But the deck remains stacked against him, and that’s his coach’s fault.

Featured image via Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports Images