One of the best matchups on Week 2 of the NFL schedule is a "Sunday Night Football" showdown between the Patriots and Dolphins.
It's a very important game for both teams. The Dolphins are 1-0 and looking to extend their lead atop the AFC East. The Patriots are hoping to avoid an 0-2 start amid a grueling schedule.
Both teams are led by former Alabama quarterbacks. Mac Jones runs the Patriots offense, and he played well in a Week 1 loss to the Eagles with 316 yards passing, three touchdowns and one interception. Tua Tagovailoa leads the Dolphins and threw for 466 yards with three touchdowns and one interception in a season-opening victory against the Chargers. The performance earned Tagovailoa the AFC Offensive Player of the Week Award.
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Each of these QBs have enjoyed plenty of ups and downs in their brief pro careers. Which one is better? That's the question our Tom E. Curran asked The Athletic's Mike Sando on a new episode of the Patriots Talk Podcast. It's not a simple question to answer.
"I don't think you can pick the guy who isn't having close to the same production," Sando said. "Now, unless you're going to bring into the whole picture, hey, I don't think Tua can make it through a season. Who would I rather have to pay $30 million a year? That's a good question because I do believe Mac Jones can stay on the field more. I'm more worried about Tua for reasons that really are part of the evaluation of who's the better investment or can we count on this guy.
"But in terms of who is better when they're both playing and healthy, you can make the case with all this contextual stuff that it might be Mac Jones, but it's hard to make it not be the guy who just threw for 466 yards."
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Tagovailoa's improved performance since the beginning of last season -- which coincided with Mike McDaniel taking over as an offensive-minded head coach -- can largely be attributed to the Dolphins surrounding him with better weapons. Miami's elite wideouts, Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, both made their Dolphins debuts in Week 1 of the 2021 season against the Patriots. Since then, Tagovailoa has looked like a much better player. Funny how that works, huh?
"I looked at all of the receivers that Tua threw to when Brian Flores was the coach and now since McDaniel, because the difference in yards per completion goes from like 9.9 to 14," Sando said. "It's unbelievable, and with this current regime, 67 percent of his yardage is going to two guys, Tyreek Hill and Waddle.
"And when you go back to when Flo was there and they didn't have a good offense, it's like divided among 10 guys. There's no one even close to the same. In fact, I think Mike Gesicki was the No. 1 yardage guy under Tua. In 22 games, he had like 807 yards. Tyreek Hill just had 215 in one game the other day. That's not all Tua. But it's also hard to just say, well, despite the fact this guy's lighting it up and the other guy isn't, that I want the guy who's not."
Jones has played pretty well when you consider his best wide receiver since he arrived to New England has been Kendrick Bourne. Bourne is a solid player, as we saw in Week 1 when he caught six passes for 64 yards and two touchdowns against a good Eagles defense, but he's not close to the level of Hill or Waddle.
For the Patriots to make the best possible evaluation of Jones, they need to put at least one elite pass-catcher around him and see how much of a different it makes. If he follows the same trajectory that Tagovailoa has with Hill and Waddle, then you know Jones can be your franchise QB for a while. If the weapons improve and Mac does not, then it's time to move on and find a new quarterback.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, it's hard to imagine how they would add that kind of offensive difference-maker during the current season, so we might have to wait until 2024 to see Jones targeting a top-tier wideout in Foxboro.
Also in this episode: Mike Sando breaks down his QB tier system and evaluates the landscape in the AFC.