A little over a week ago, the New England Patriots were winners of three straight. They suffered a narrow loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Thanksgiving, but even then, the 6-5 Patriots felt like a team that could threaten in the postseason.
After Thursday night's 24-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills, however, it feels like New England's season is basically over. Anyone looking to point the finger at quarterback Mac Jones for the loss—or for not being on the level of Josh Allen—shouldn't. Jones didn't fail the Patriots on Thursday. The Patriots have failed Jones all season.
Let's be clear. Jones isn't Allen. He's an adequately athletic pocket passer whose strengths are his timing, accuracy and ability to read a defense. He isn't the sort of dynamic dual-threat who can create big plays out of thin air.
However, Jones cannot and should not be blamed for all of New England's offensive struggles.
The offense isn't exactly loaded with skill-position players. Rhamondre Stevenson is a tremendous runner, while Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith are quality receiving tight ends. However, the wide receiver group—headlined by Jakobi Meyers, DeVante Parker and Nelson Agholor—leaves plenty to be desired.
Meyers came into Thursday with a team-high 571 receiving yards and a team-high three receiving touchdowns. Those aren't numbers indicative of a No. 1 NFL receiver. Entering Week 13, Parker was the only other player with more than 400 receiving yards on the season.
The reality is that New England lacks breakaway threats, and that's a problem when the quarterback is a distributor and not a creator. Another problem is an offensive line that has now allowed 32 sacks on the season.
Khari Thompson @kdthompson5
You can put things this simply:<br><br>If you don't protect a guy like Josh Allen, he can put on a Superman cape and just beat you anyway.<br><br>If you don't protect Mac Jones, your offense is dead.<br><br>Not sure that's something to hate Jones for, but tonight made that pretty clear.
Big plays have been few and far between for New England. We saw this play out on Thursday, as New England's lone explosive play was made by a rookie cornerback getting his first NFL offensive snap.
The Patriots and head coach/de facto GM Bill Belichick must shoulder the blame for Jones' lackluster supporting cast.
Of course, Jones had a similar supporting cast last season and was a rookie Pro Bowler who took New England to the playoffs. However, he has regressed in both touchdown passes (from 22 to seven) and passer rating (from 92.5 to 87.3 coming into Thursday)—and the supporting cast is only part of the problem.
The Patriots and Belichick have failed Jones in the coaching department, too. When New England lost offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in the offseason, it didn't replace him with an experienced play caller. Belichick tapped Joe Judge and Matt Patricia—coaches with special teams and defensive backgrounds, respectively—to lead the offense.
Unsurprisingly, the Patriots' attack has been uncreative and predictable for most of the year—one miraculous Marcus Jones play notwithstanding.
Play-calling hasn't helped Jones in any way. No, he doesn't have elite receivers at his disposal, but he does have enough downfield accuracy to stretch the field. Only, the Patriots have rarely attacked deep, instead relying on the run and underneath passes, hoping something breaks.
With the current skill group, there aren't going to be many breakaway plays when opponents aren't concerned with defending the deep ball.
Perhaps Patricia and Co. don't trust the Patriots offensive line. Perhaps they don't trust Jones. Whatever the reason, the result has been an offense that is too easy to defend.
A little creativity could work wonders for Jones, as it did last year. According to Pro Football Reference, Jones ran 32 run-pass options (RPOs) in 2022 and threw for 324 yards on those plays. He attempted 108 play-action passes and threw for 888 yards off of play-action.
Entering Thursday, Jones had run six RPOs and 33 play-action passes with 318 passing yards off of those plays this season.
The Patriots also might want to let Jones do what he does best, stand under center and survey the field.
With a bland offense that lacks breakaway pass-catchers and doesn't do a stellar job of protecting the quarterback, it would be hard for just about any signal-caller to find success—at least one not named Allen or Lamar Jackson or Patrick Mahomes.
And it's not as if Jones didn't see this coming. The second-year quarterback had trepidation about Belichick's choice of play-caller, and he was largely ignored. According to Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer, this strained the relationship between team and quarterback early in the season.
Breer said the following on the NBC Sports Boston pregame show in October (h/t NESN's Dakota Randall):
"I think things did get a little sideways, really over the last couple of months. And I think it’s going back from the change to Josh McDaniels. ‘Why are we bringing in Joe Judge and Matt Patricia when Bill O’Brien’s sitting out there and potentially we could’ve made a run at him? Why does it make sense to have a defensive guy and a special teams guy here? Why are we changing the offense? Why are we streamlining after all the success I had?'"
Jones doesn't seem nearly as comfortable in the current Patriots offense as he did under McDaniels—a sentiment shared by many around the league, according to Breer.
"One thing some of these people who evaluated him have told me consistently over the course of this year is it doesn't look like he trusts the offense," Breer said on Early Edition (h/t Justin Leger of NBC Sports Boston). "So I think the first thing is getting him concepts that he trusts. Figuring out what he likes and focusing on that."
This is perhaps the biggest way in which the Patriots have failed Jones. Instead of listening to the guy they drafted to be the franchise quarterback and tailoring the offense to suit him, New England has dismissed his concerns and tried to force him into an unfamiliar system.
And perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. It's the "Patriot Way" to follow Belichick and do what is asked. It worked for years with Tom Brady running the show, though to be fair, Brady is arguably the best to ever do it.
Of course, New England can point to the success of Bailey Zappe—who went 2-0 and posted a 100.9 QB rating when Jones was out with a high-ankle sprain—and say that the "Patriot Way" still works.
However, when a team doesn't trust its quarterback or acknowledge his input, it's hard for that quarterback to trust the team and to flourish.
So, if New England misses the postseason this year, and a bad offense is the culprit, don't blame Jones. As a rookie, he appeared to be a worthy successor to Brady in New England, but in his second season, the Patriots have let their prospective franchise quarterback down in multiple ways.