Tom E. Curran

Mac Jones trade closes the book on Belichick's final Patriots misstep

Belichick's failure to develop his first-round QB ultimately sealed his fate.

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Mac Jones was the perfect storm personified.

A smart quarterback with run-of-the-mill physical skills drafted with shrugging, “We guess he’ll do …” enthusiasm.

A player plopped down in a rudderless offense short on talent which was – after one decent season – put in the hands of coaches who lobbed the drowning Jones an anvil instead of a buoy.

A 24-year-old who – when the poop hit the fan – gave in to grimacing, whining, stomping and finger-pointing which showed up legendary coach (and all-time grudge holder) Bill Belichick, sealing his fate and, ironically, Belichick’s.

Jones’ and the Patriots' shared failure ultimately uprooted the biggest coaching sequoia in the forest.

Making life miserable for the greatest quarterback in NFL history and then having him win a Super Bowl someplace else didn’t seal Belichick’s fate. Making it so that Mac Jones was completely unusable did.

Nature vs. Nurture. Chicken or the egg. Was Mac always going to suck or did Belichick underrate urgency and overrate his own acumen as an offensive coach and roster-builder? Personally, I’d lean toward the latter.

Belichick didn’t think Tom Brady would ever leave. He didn’t think it would be impossible to replace him. He didn’t do well picking skill players in the draft, with assorted N’Keals and Tyquans, or in free agency, with the Jonnus and JuJus. He didn’t create a deep bullpen of offensive coaches behind Josh McDaniels and he didn’t think through replacing McDaniels with a Matt Patricia/Joe Judge combo platter that actually tried to CHANGE THE OFFENSIVE SCHEME in 2022 to one that would push the ball downfield and run wide-zone.

Given a decent situation and the right support, Jones could have been a top-12 quarterback for a decade who gave you a good shot every Sunday. The Patriots gave Jones a bad situation and then pulled back on their support.

Now, did the coaching staff request that Jones throw two picks in a 2021 loss to the Colts that sent the 9-4 Patriots into a season-ending spiral that cost Jones the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year Award? (He finished second in the voting.)

Did they ask him to throw three picks in a 2022 Week 3 loss to the Ravens? Or to throw a punt in the Monday night game against Chicago when he was coming back from injury and Bailey Zappe had played pretty well in relief?

Did they advise Jones to start waving off the sidelines and launching F-bombs at Belichick’s sideline lieutenants in a mind-numbing display of insubordination beginning in December of 2022?

They did not. And that’s what caused Jones to go from being regarded as a sympathetic figure to a snot-nosed, Gen-Z, noodle-armed, silver spoon whiner who had to go.

I can write more words on the relationship or I can share a clip that – in my mind – is an apt representation of where things were with Jones and Belichick. Ever seen Patton (Best Picture, 1970; Best Actor, George C. Scott)? Belichick is Patton. Jones is the weeping soldier.

Now imagine the reaction if the soldier stood up and gave Patton the finger. The 24-year-old Jones allowed the 2022 adversity to get to him. When he cracked, the 70-year-old Belichick took it personally.

In July of 2022, Belichick wouldn’t shut up about Jones’ dramatic offseason improvement after an outstanding rookie year.

Five months later, all Belichick could muster was that “Mac has the ability to play in the NFL.” That would be one of the rare occasions over the last two seasons where Belichick publicly uttered Jones’ name.

After Belichick’s plan to run it back with Patricia as offensive coordinator in 2023 was overruled by Robert Kraft, Belichick courted and hired Bill O’Brien.

The upgrade at coordinator was offset by injuries and poor staffing on the offensive line, a downgrade from Jakobi Meyers to JuJu Smith-Schuster at wideout and Jones’ own penchant for throwing one knee-buckling pick per week.

In Week 4 against the Cowboys, Jones had one of the worst quarterbacking games the region’s ever seen. (And that’s saying something.) He got benched. He got benched again in a shutout loss to the Saints in Week 5 that capped a 72-3 two-week run of ineptitude, and the lid of the coffin started closing on everyone involved.

Jones was so rattled by pressure he didn’t know whether to poop or go blind. He somehow managed one Sunday of excellence, a come-from-behind win against the Bills in Week 7 when he went 25 for 30 for 272 with two TDs and no picks. But that out-of-body experience was offset the next two weeks against the Dolphins (bad pick by Mac; bad drop by DeVante Parker) and Commanders (a Smith-Schuster drop that turned into a pick).

Then the Patriots went to Germany and the rest is history. Jones rotted on the bench for the final six games. The Patriots wanted to put him on IR. He refused to go. Belichick got one more shot in after the bell by making Jones inactive for the final game of the season, opting to go with Zappe and newly-added Nathan Rourke as starter and backup.

Mac Jones stats
Mac Jones' stats rapidly declined in 2022 and 2023 after a promising rookie campaign.

The Patriots cycled through eight quarterbacks in 2023. Since Tom Brady said, “I ain’t coming back…” the team has looked like a kid swinging at a piñata trying to find an answer.

Jones’ failure to launch isn’t just a cautionary tale for the Patriots, it’s useful for the whole league.

The Patriots are firm on making sure whoever they draft has a commanding presence AND a good arm. Jones, while universally liked by his teammates, had neither.

He would have worked fine, though, if Belichick didn’t hand Jones a crap sandwich then go ballistic when Jones complained about the taste.

Brian Hoyer, Jones’ backup in 2021 and ’22, still marvels at Jones’ acumen as a rookie.

“His rookie year, I was convinced that people were telling him the answers to questions in the room or, you know, they were giving him the script on the field because I had never seen someone that young learn that offense so quickly,” Hoyer said on the Patriots Talk Podcast last week.

“I mean, it took me three years to get to where he was at the end of training camp, and to me, it was a blessing and it was a curse because once Josh (McDaniels) left … a lot of people who were going to come in weren't going to be at that point to coach him at that high of a level where he was. And he's an intelligent guy, so he questions a lot of things. …

“I don't think there was anyone who, you know, could put the vision to paper and then explain it and then have us go out and do it. I think that was the tough part.”

Did Mac suck or did the situation suck? Was it the chicken? Was it the egg? Doesn’t matter.

The little chicken was asked to cross the road. He didn’t get to the other side. Everybody’s to blame. Look both ways next time.

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