New England Patriots

Patriots-Giants takeaways: Mac Jones benched again as Pats fall to 2-9

On the bright side for the Patriots, their chances of landing a top-three draft pick improved.

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After much debate and speculation throughout the buildup to Sunday's Week 12 game against the New York Giants, the New England Patriots ultimately decided to start Mac Jones at quarterback.

He lasted only a half.

Jones was benched at halftime after throwing two interceptions in the opening two quarters, during which the Patriots scored zero points. Bailey Zappe took over for Jones and played a little bit better, although he also threw an interception. Despite the awful offensive performance, the Patriots still had a chance to force overtime, but rookie kicker Chad Ryland missed a 35-yard field goal in the final 10 seconds of the fourth quarter as the Giants escaped with a 10-7 victory.

The Giants improve to 4-8 as a result, while the Patriots fall to 2-9. The last time the Patriots owned a 2-9 record was 1992, when they finished 2-14 and got the No. 1 pick in the 1993 NFL Draft (Drew Bledsoe).

🔊 Patriots Talk: Patriots give off disengaged vibe in loss to Giants | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

The Patriots host the Los Angeles Chargers next Sunday in Week 13. But before we look ahead to that matchup, here are four takeaways from Patriots-Giants.

No more Mac

How much bad football do the Patriots need to see from Mac Jones before they permanently bench him? Sure, Zappe doesn't inspire much confidence, either, and he has largely struggled when he's received regular season reps. But if the Patriots actually want to win games and build something for next season, they can't keep going back to Jones as the starting quarterback.

The primary reason is his inability to consistently protect the football. Turnovers have plagued Jones all season, and they were again a huge issue Sunday.

Jones' first interception came at the end of the first quarter when he overthrew wide receiver Demario Douglas along the sideline.

His second interception happened in the second quarter. The Patriots were in the midst of their best drive of the game to that point when Jones threw an awful pass that was picked off and returned for 55 yards. The Giants scored their first touchdown of the game six plays later.

Jones was benched at halftime and Zappe played the entire second half.

Here are the final stats for both QBs:

  • Jones: 12-for-21, 89 yards, zero TD, two INT, 27.8 passer rating
  • Zappe: 9-for-14, 54 yards, zero TD, one INT, 42.0 passer rating

Jones has been benched four times in 11 games this season. His 12 interceptions are tied for the second-most among all QBs.

It's just not working with Jones as the starter. We have an 11-game sample of awful offense. It's time to finish the season with Zappe -- or someone else -- as the starter.

Patriots pass rush dominates

Sunday's game was the best the Patriots front seven has looked in the eight weeks that star linebacker Matthew Judon has missed due to injury.

The Patriots tallied six sacks -- one each by Jabrill Peppers, Christian Barmore, Ja'Whaun Bentley and rookie Keion White. Anferenee Jennings had 1.5 sacks and Deatrich Wise posted a half sack. New England's defense also was credited with seven QB hits.

This group did a great job speeding things up for Giants rookie quarterback Tommy DeVito.

Barmore continues to have a stellar season in the middle of the defensive line. He tallied three tackles (one for a loss), one sack, one pass defensed and one QB hit. The Patriots would be wise to consider a contract extension for Barmore sooner rather than later. He has the potential to be a core piece for this defense for a long time.

Keep feeding Rhamondre Stevenson

Stevenson had a rough start to the season, but he's been very effective the last couple games. That momentum carried through Sunday when he racked up 98 yards (4.7 per carry) and a touchdown.

The score capped an 11-play drive to open the second half with Zappe at quarterback.

Here's a look at Stevenson's last three games:

  • Week 9 vs. Commanders: 87 yards (9.7 per carry), one TD; Four receptions, 42 yards
  • Week 10 vs. Colts: 88 yards (4.4 per carry); Three receptions, 14 yards
  • Week 12 at Giants: 98 yards (4.7 per carry), one TD; Five receptions, nine yards

The gameplan for the rest of the season should be pounding the ball in the run game behind Stevenson. The Patriots don't have a trustworthy quarterback on their roster, so their only hope of winning is dominating the time of possession and wearing down the opposing defense. Stevenson, as a hard-nosed running back, would be perfect for that kind of strategy.

The Patriots' next opponent, the L.A. Chargers, have given up 102 yards per game on the ground this season, along with 12 touchdowns (fourth-most in the league).

A loss is really a win?

In the big picture, this result could actually end up being a huge positive for the Patriots. The loss drops their record to 2-9, and they currently own the No. 3 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. They briefly owned the No. 2 pick before the Arizona Cardinals lost to the Los Angeles Rams late Sunday afternoon.

The Giants were among the teams jockeying for position in the top five of the draft order, so this result gives the Patriots a better chance of landing a top three pick than the Giants.

🔊 Next Pats: Why Jayden Daniels should be the third QB taken in the 2024 NFL Draft Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

In fact, the Patriots now have a 38 percent chance of earning a top-two pick, per ESPN Analytics. It would have been just nine percent had they beaten the Giants.

Landing a top-three pick would guarantee the Patriots an opportunity to select one of the top QB prospects -- USC's Caleb Williams or UNC's Drake Maye -- or a generational wide receiver talent in Ohio State's Marvin Harrison Jr.

All of the losing is tough for Patriots fans, especially after they just watched two decades of unprecedented winning. But there's a light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a high pick in the first round of the 2024 draft.

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