When a team is 1-3 following a 38-3 shellacking, and when the third-year quarterback is coming off what was arguably the worst outing of his career, which included a benching, it’s probably too soon to declare that quarterback a failure with his team.
But the Patriots are 1-3, and they are coming off a display of utter ineptitude in Sunday’s five-touchdown loss to Dallas, and quarterback Mac Jones did get benched while suffering through one of his worst performances since he was the team’s first-round pick in 2021.
On the Fox Sports OT postgame show, Hall of Fame defensive lineman Howie Long found that it was not, in fact, too early to declare the Patriots’ Mac Jones Era a flop.
“Listen,” Long said, “they’re struggling. Today was really a—I think, at quarterback, I don’t believe that Mac Jones is the guy. And I think we can kind of agree on that. I think they’re probably coming to that conclusion in New England.”
Perhaps Long was referring to the fact that the Patriots brought in Bailey Zappe at the end of the game. But, coach Bill Belichick said, that was merely because it was a blowout and not because he’s considering a QB change. “I didn’t think there was any point in leaving (Jones) in the game,” Belichick said.
Strong Statement on Mac Jones
But still, that is a big statement from Long, which is not to say he is wrong. Jones is coming off a game in which he was 12-for-21 passing for just 150 yards, plus two interceptions, and he had a passer rating of 39.9, the second-lowest single-game rating of his career (Week 16 in 2021, with a 31.4).
Those are rock-bottom numbers, and with the Patriots badly in need of continuing the momentum they gained from their first win, a 15-10 game over the Jets in New York last week, this was an unsightly performance from Jones.
“I feel really bad,” Jones said. “I let my team down, let the coaches down, the whole organization, everybody, the fans.”
Even when the Patriots were struggling in their first two games of the season, losses to Philadelphia and Miami, Jones did not appear to be at fault. In both cases, New England fell behind early and Jones attempted—and nearly succeeded—to rally the Pats back to a win, or at least, a tie.
When the Patriots were down, 10-3, in the first quarter, the defense forced a stop and got Jones the ball back on a three-and-out. But Jones fumbled, and the Cowboys returned the recovery for a touchdown.
Just before the start of halftime, facing a 21-3 deficit and attempting to get some kind of score going to provide hope for the second half, Jones had the Patriots to the Dallas 48-yard line, with a second-and-10 situation. Jones threw a dangling ball to the sideline, where it was picked off by Daron Bland and returned for the Cowboys’ second defensive touchdown.
Forget 21-6 or 21-10. After that, it was 28-3.
No Masking Jones’ Failings in Week 4
There was no excuse for Jones on those plays, and this loss falls squarely on him, as much as any loss in his young career, during which he has now gone 17-18. He just turned 25 on September 5 and, it is sometimes difficult to remember, he was a Pro Bowl selection just two years ago as a rookie.
The Patriots have had an oft-injured, ramshackle offensive line and an abysmal group of wide receivers. They have not been able to establish the run and, all too often, they’ve had bad breaks early in games this season.
There have been reasons for the team’s failings in recent weeks, but this Week 4 loss against the Cowboys, this one is on Jones. And maybe Long is overstating the Patriots’ need to begin a search for a new quarterback.
But after a game like Sunday’s, it’s fair to wonder whether Jones is, indeed the guy. He simply did not play like it.