The New England Patriots exceeded the expectations that many had for them during the 2021 NFL season—finishing with a 10-7 record and earning a playoff spot. With Tom Brady long gone and rookie quarterback Mac Jones in the lineup, the team is gearing up to take on their AFC East rival, the Buffalo Bills, in the NFL Wild Card Round.
Each team faces questions entering the playoffs, the Patriots certainly no exception. Ranking high on that list will be whether Jones can bring the level of play the team needs in his first NFL playoff start, especially coming off New England’s 33-24 loss to the Miami Dolphins. His poor performance was part of what has been a larger trend of negative outings for the rookie quarterback.
“It’s super embarrassing, honestly, just from my point, just how I played — wasn’t good enough,” Jones said, via ESPN Staff Writer Mike Reiss. “I can be better. It starts with me. I’m the quarterback and that’s my job, is to make people around me have success.”
Against the Dolphins, Jones finished his performance completing 20 of his 30 pass attempts for 261 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. The pick that Jones threw was quite costly as it was a pick-six on the Patriots’ first drive of the game—putting the Dolphins up 14-0. New England never managed to dig out of the hole.
“I knew what coverage they were playing,” Jones said. “I just didn’t see the outside guy and I threw it too wide. It was my fault. It was Cover 2, there’s nothing to it. It’s simple, and I have to read it out and do a better job getting the ball to the right guy.”
To make matters worse, Jones fumbled with 2:29 left in the third quarter when the Patriots trailed the Dolphins 24-10. Miami managed to use that takeaway to record a field goal—going up 17 points with just seven seconds remaining before the final period.
“I’ve been doing that since Pop Warner,” Jones said. “Just get the ball from the center. It doesn’t matter who the center is. It wasn’t Ted’s fault. It was my fault. I have to get the ball and hand it off to the running back. It wasn’t some giant play that required a bunch of things.”
There was some real poise shown by Jones to rally the New England Patriots back. He led the offense on consecutive scoring drives ending in touchdowns but with just 2:53 left in the game trailing 27-24, there was a very thin margin for error for the defense to get a timely stop to setup a potential game-winning drive for the offense.
Mac Jones may be a rookie and coming off a rough regular season finale, but regardless, he has the confidence of his Patriots teammates as the team enters the playoffs.
“He’s tough, he’s resilient,” Hunter Henry said. “He didn’t play his best early, had some crucial mistake; I know he’s going to learn from them and grow. He’s young. But still, just the resiliency of him, the toughness, taking some shots. He’s a tough, tough dude.”
A common limitation that teams face with a young quarterback is the lack of dynamic results when an offense needs big plays in key moments. While Jones trailed only Dak Prescott for the highest single-season completion percentage (67.6%) by a rookie quarterback in NFL history, he did not throw a passing touchdown in two prior matchups with the Buffalo Bills.
Of course, it would have been a challenge for Jones to throw a touchdown in the New England Patriots’ 14-10 win over the Bills on Dec. 6 when he threw only three pass attempts in the whole game. However, he failed to find the end-zone using his arm in New England’s 33-21 loss and threw a pair of interceptions.
Jones isn’t alone, it’s been a rare occurrence for a rookie quarterback to start on a team that manages to pull off a deep playoff run. The last starting quarterback to advance as far as a conference championship game was Mark Sanchez with the New York Jets in 2009.
Being able to make tough throws in key moments while keeping turnovers at a minimum throughout games are often themes for successful playoff quarterbacks in the playoffs. If Mac Jones can do the same for the New England Patriots against the Buffalo Bills, their chances of victory will be maximized.