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McGinley: Mac Jones is THE quarterback for New England

| Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Of all the rookies, on all the teams in the NFL, there was no better match for the Patriots than Mac Jones. (Yes I’m making the Casablanca reference but that’s because it’s also a Gilmore Girls reference and that’s the one that matters—anyway, moving on.)

I will admit, when Bill Belichick picked him, I don’t know that I was fully on board. I knew I wanted to see the Pats take a quarterback, but it didn’t matter to me which quarterback it was. There wasn’t anyone who could be more of a nuisance than Cam Newton had become, so I didn’t think there was a bad choice overall. Now, as the season approaches, I see that Jones is so much more than just not a nuisance.

He wasn’t my first choice though for reasons that seem ridiculous now.

The most glaring reason: he went to Alabama. I, like everyone who doesn’t go to Alabama, do not care particularly for their team nor any of their players, especially when one of those players gets a DUI at 19. Despite that, I respected that he made it on the field, but I got swept up in the idea that Jones was a decent quarterback surrounded by unbelievably skilled receivers. With DeVonta Smith as the focal point of the offense, you could get a little bit lost in the noise, and the quarterback easily becomes just the guy who gets the ball to his best player. I definitely fell into that trap with Jones.

And, when it came time for draft picks, everyone was downplaying Jones further because they heard New England wanted him. Coming off a dynasty, the idea of another one starting was a turn-off to Jones for most NFL fans that were not also Pats fans. That noise got so distracting, I lost sight of Jone’s capabilities again.

Then, when he didn’t automatically jump into the driver’s seat like Trevor Lawrence did this year and Alabama quarterbacks have in the past, I was concerned he was just filling space and we wasted our first pick.

But still, I had my doubts.

After he arrived, I was still tentative, but over time, he got me fully on board.  If you’re not there yet, here are a couple of things that helped sell me on the Jones-Pats relationship that I think any Pats fan could get behind:

He was willing to do the work without the limelight results.

Every time Belichick was asked about his thinking at the position, he said Cam Newton was going to start. At multiple press conferences, his argument was, Cam had the position in the previous season, and he had already proven he deserved it over Stidham.  So, unless someone came in and looked better than him in terms of chemistry with the team and overall skill, they weren’t getting the position.

This meant Jones was going to have to come in with a quarterback who had coach ready to back him and a name everyone already knew.

Cam Newton was seemingly in it for the limelight (I mean, that was evident in his playmaking decisions), but Jones was going to have to prove his own worth way out and around Newton’s presence if he wanted to see the field.

Despite that mountain to climb, he maintained his effort. In a radio interview with WEEI FM in Boston, Jones was asked if he was ready to start with Cam out. He was not even willing to look at something with that big picture lens, he just looked to the pieces that would get him there. “Today, I am trying to just learn the plays I messed up on in practice.” He said “That’s really my focus. Fix those and move on to the next day. I think I’m starting to get a good grasp of it. I am just here to be a good teammate and help the quarterback room. When I am in there I need to execute the plays and I can continue to get better at that and I will, so it’s just a learning experience. I am ready to play any role that I need to play.”

Now, he needs to fill the role of “Patriots Quarterback.” For 20 years it was synonymous with G.O.A.T. and for the last year, that box just hasn’t been completely filled in.

When he was called on, he proved he’s ready.

During preseason, Cam Newton had yet another run-in with COVID-19 which left Jones to take the field. This came just after New England’s 35-0 destruction of the Eagles and the entire NFL was in consensus: Jones was either making immensely quick progress OR we had all undersold him from the beginning. In that win, Jones threw 13 completions on 19 attempts for 146 yards. He saw more plays in the most real NFL play he had ever seen yet.

A week later, with Cam out, it was time to put those plays and new skills to the test. In a practice scrimmage, against the starting Giants defense, Jones was surgical. He threw back-to-back touchdowns, going 35-4- on completions. In the final two minutes, he threw an additional touchdown to Jakobi Meyers that was over 50 yards and made it through double coverage.

It was this performance that sold me and ultimately sold Belichick.

What Belichick must have seen.

Shortly afterward, Belichick made the announcement they would be releasing Cam Newton, and I had never been more ecstatic.

Belichick waited until it was obvious to Patriots fans everywhere that Jones was the best option. He waited until we could see his stats, but there’s an intuitive part to it as well. It makes more sense to have a great new quarterback learn to work with a fairly young receiving corps, rather than a semi-washed-up star trying to work with a young team. Brady couldn’t do it, I don’t know why we expected Cam to be able to.

This is especially true when you consider who Belichick is as a coach. His favorite way to operate is to take the fairly good player and make a star out of him. That doesn’t work if he already thinks he’s the star and doesn’t think he has work to do. Cam Newton, whether he feels that way or not, carries that air and Brady left when he started to feel bigger than the Patriots had space for. If Jones feels that way he hasn’t shown it. He has put the work first, and Belichick saw that before any of us could. He knew we would get on board for it once. We couldn’t see it though as fast as he could.

Overall, I should’ve been on board.

Looking at it now, too, his Alabama days should’ve been the main reason I wanted Jones. He threw for over 400 competitions, 311 of which were in his 2020 season and he threw for 56 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions.

I should’ve also trusted that Belichick had thought things out farther than I had. You know, being head coach of the Patriots for 22 years, a coach in general for 46, and all of those little facts. The fact that he consulted Nick Saban several times before taking anyone from Alabama, especially his starting quarterback, should’ve been confidence enough. He’s never let me down before, why would he now?

The new stats were just the icing on the cake though and pushed me over the edge. I’ve seen the light and Jones can be a really good weapon for the Patriots this season. And, if he’s not completely ready yet, we can afford one more mediocre season to work out the kinks (although Mac if you’re reading, I would appreciate it if we didn’t, so keep up the good work!)

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