FOXBORO -- Look, I get it. Nobody wants to hear that the best part of last Sunday for Mac Jones -- the Patriots' would-be franchise quarterback -- was how well he got sacked.
Or how the untrained eye of the casuals and the basics may have missed how impressive Jones’ performance really was in his first full game since Week 3.
Still, at this point in 2022, that’s where the Patriots are. Witness Joe Judge was on a Tuesday Zoom call when asked about Jones’ decision-making against the Jets.
"Sometimes you look at things and think, 'OK, that’s a throwaway,'" said the Patriots' quarterbacks coach. "Or there were times Mac took a sack. Knowing how to take the sack with ball security and knowing we weren’t losing too many yards to take us out of field goal range, there are decisions he has to make within the game that don’t show up as a positive just to the casual fan watching. And you don’t draw up plays just to throw the ball away. But situational football for a quarterback, it’s making the right decision at the right time for the team.
"He really did some good things for the team the other day that won’t show up on the stat sheet," Judge said. "That won’t show up if you’re (not) just watching tape and saying, 'Hey, that’s really a big-time play by Mac of really understanding what the entirety of the game is.'"
It’s all true. But still.
New England Patriots
This is a first-round quarterback, folks. The 15th overall pick. A guy who at this time last year was the leader for the Offensive Rookie of the Year. A player who won a National Championship at Alabama and took the Patriots to the playoffs where -- honestly -- he was the least of the Patriots' problems in that embarrassing loss to the Bills.
We can’t be shooting off the confetti cannons when he throws one into the kicking net. We can’t be passing out the sheet cake in praise of how well he drops into the fetal position.
But here we are. And here we will be until further notice.
Or more specifically, here we will be until the Patriots A) figure out what they want to be with their scheme; B) can get PASSABLE performances from the offensive line in terms of protection; C) believe Jones is fully back from the ankle and time missed; D) get commensurate production from the $50M in cap space they’re spending on Hunter Henry, Nelson Agholor, Jonnu Smith, Kendrick Bourne and DeVante Parker; E) stop committing mind-numbing penalties.
Until the Patriots get there, you can’t pass judgment on Jones. Hell, you can’t even pass judgment on all those skill position players making big money until the other things are sorted.
And that’s why the Patriots did Jones such a disservice in A) not being prepared for Josh McDaniels’ departure, B) asking Matt Patricia to be a first-year play-caller AND coach the offensive line, C) failing to develop Isaiah Wynn, D) letting Ted Karras go and trading Shaq Mason.
There are so many things holding the offense back, it’s hard to figure out which is the root cause for their struggles or how close they are to being fixed.
Yet when last seen in uniform at Gillette, Jones was watching from the sideline as Bailey Zappe -- much to the delight of way too many of the 68,000 people in the stands -- ran the Patriots offense in relief. And people thought that was terrific. Until all the Zappidians got an eyeful of Bailey getting balls spiked back in his face like clockwork.
Fans were intoxicated by Zappe’s two-game stint as a chauffeur and Bill Belichick APPEARED to be agreeing with them by giving Jones the hook after a heinous interception. Belichick’s been trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube since but the damage was done. He fed the perception that Mac's on a leash.
And he shouldn’t be. Jones needs to be given all the rope he needs to either zip-line through this rocky period or to rappel out of the team’s future.
But the answer as to whether or not he’s THE GUY probably isn’t going to be clearly delivered by the end of this season. And maybe not by the end of next season. In 2024 (and that’s not that far away), Jones will be entering his fourth season.
Even if Jones is the guy hugging Belichick at the end of that year when Bill passes Shula, if Mac is still getting "attaboys" for throwing it out of bounds correctly, it will be time to start looking for the next guy.
But not now. Not Sunday. Not this year. Stop picking at it. If you want the Patriots to get back where they were for 20 years, you want them to act like a team that belongs up there.
Know who pulls the plug on once-promising first-round quarterbacks after two seasons? The Browns. The Jets. The Panthers. Need I go on? I didn’t think so. If they effed up on Mac Jones, the answer will come clear when it’s obvious he’s the one thing holding them back.
It’s not there yet. Not even close.