Boston Sports Tonight

Do Patriots have the pieces in place to be a top-12 offense?

Mac Jones took an important step in a key area Sunday.

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If the New England Patriots want to make the playoffs in 2023, they'll need much better offensive production than they had a season ago. It seems things are trending in the right direction.

The Patriots racked up 382 total yards of offense against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday in their first game with Bill O'Brien as offensive coordinator. Quarterback Mac Jones set career highs in completions (35) and pass attempts (54) while throwing three touchdown passes in a game for just the fourth time in his NFL career.

While the offense still has plenty to work on -- Jones threw a back-breaking pick-six in the first quarter, while running backs Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott combined for just 54 rushing yards in New England's 25-20 loss -- is there reason to believe this unit is trending in the right direction?

On Tuesday's edition of NBC Sports Boston's Boston Sports Tonight, the Boston Herald's Andrew Callahan explained why he's bullish on the Patriots' offense.

"(Jones) was so much better under pressure than what we saw a year ago," Callahan said. "... He stood in and took major hits time and time against the best pass rush in the NFL. That gives me hope, even if he didn't finish the game (with a win). This game was as close as you could get to a draw and still lose by five.

"Their offense was better than the Eagles, the best offense in the NFC. They were more efficient. They stayed on schedule. They had a couple more explosive plays -- and that's a team with A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith and Jalen Hurts."

Jones was abysmal under pressure last season, ranking 38th among 40 qualified QBs in passer rating under pressure (35.1). But the third-year pro looked much more comfortable in the pocket Sunday, posting a 75.2 passer rating under pressure that ranked third in the NFL behind only Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert. That number might have been even higher had wide receiver Kendrick Bourne hauled in an impressive pass Jones threw while taking a hard hit on third down.

In an ideal world, the Patriots would limit the pressure on their starting QB, but they faced a tough task Sunday against an elite Eagles pass rush without two of their starting offensive linemen in Cole Strange and Mike Onwenu.

"You had two rookies (Atonio Mafi and Sidy Sow), one of whom spent most of camp playing tackle, at right guard, and naturally both of them gave up five pressures or more," Callahan added. "That's an issue. That puts a hard ceiling -- you're going to be an average offense or worse, and that's basically what the Patriots were."

But if the Patriots can get Strange on Onwenu back in the lineup, they boast a promising complement of pass-catchers in JuJu Smith-Schuster, DeVante Parker, Bourne, rookies Demario Douglas and Kayshon Boutte and tight end duo Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki. Based on the improvements Jones has made under O'Brien, Callahan believes this group can flirt with the top 10 of NFL offenses.

"Ultimately, if they get Cole Strange back and Mike Onwenu, this could be a top-12 offense," Callahan said. "I think the pieces are in place. Not to mention DeVante Parker, who missed Sunday's game too."

Check out the video player above for Callahan's full take on the Patriots' offense.

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