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Breaking down Mac Jones' Patriots debut

The Patriots first-round draft pick showed poise in his first NFL game action against the Washington Football Team.


Mac Jones completed 13-of-19 passes for 87 yards while leading the Patriots quarterbacks by playing 33 snaps in a 22-13 preseason win over the Washington Football Team. Though there were plenty of great takeaways from the team's first preseason game action in two years, the debut of the first-round pick was arguably the biggest, and while there will be plenty of debate as to when Jones will be ready for his real shot, the simple fact is that thus far it looks like the Patriots have found an excellent fit for how they like to play and Jones should only get better with more experience.

Jones entered the game after two series from starter Cam Newton and played over two quarters of action. He hit his first passing attempt though it was ruled incomplete, a dig to Jakobi Meyers that is the kind of play that Meyers has made all camp with both quarterbacks. Newton hit Meyers on a similar play earlier in the game. The Patriots did not choose to challenge the play setting up a third-and-six that illustrated Jones' immediate comfort.

Dropping back, Jones threw with anticipation to his left, finding Kristian Wilkerson on an outside hitch route that picked up the first down. It's the kind of efficient play the Patriots are known for, one that isn't flashy but keeps the chains moving.

On the next play, the first of the second quarter, Jones used play action to open up space behind the Washington linebackers and found Kendrick Bourne for another first down. Jones did a lot of damage of play action at Alabama and here he showed why, throwing the ball as Bourne was coming out of his break and perfectly placing it where it needed to go. It was decisive and the ball came out quick, both excellent signs for the rookie.

But his most tantalizing throw of the evening came just a few plays later, as Jones took a first-down shot at the end zone, lofting a beautiful pass toward Wilkerson that fell incomplete between the receiver's hands. The throw was delivered completely in rhythm in a near-perfect spot. While the rookie did most of his work underneath in his debut, this was a nice glimpse of his potential to also get the ball down the field.

It wasn't all perfect on the first drive as Jones' next third-down pass would fall incomplete and force the Patriots offense to settle for a field goal. On the play, Bourne didn't quite get out of his break smoothly enough, getting tied up with the cornerback and the result was a missed connection that was just off. Still, Jones went to the right place and put the ball where only his guy could potentially catch it.

On his second series, the offense was less effective, in part handicapped by an illegal blocker downfield penalty that backed them up five yards. Jones took three check downs to his running backs, two to J.J. Taylor and one to Jakob Johnson that was underthrown and likely cost them some run-after-catch yards. On third-and-2, no one was immediately open and Jones climbed the pocket to buy some time. When no one uncovered, Jones scrambled ahead and appeared to pick up the first down, though he was marked short and the Patriots would punt. Even on this three-and-out, Jones avoided any critical mistakes and took the easy plays. That will be key to aiding his development as he gets experience. And again, the drive probably should've continued.

The Patriots would go no huddle to open the second half and Jones shined, completing eight-straight passes and moving the offense quickly down the field. Mostly it was a collection of underneath routes, a checkdown to Taylor, an underneath crosser to N'Keal Harry, a WR bubble screen to Wilkerson, but on third-and-3 Jones made one of his best throws, facing down oncoming pressure and delivering a well-place ball that was snagged out of the air by Wilkerson.

However, on the ensuing third down, Jones would fail to feel the pressure coming off the right side after Korey Cunningham was beat. Jones was still able to get the ball out, but it was deflected as he threw and ended up on the ground. It was a narrowly avoided mistake and a play that felt disjointed all around. But that was about as close as we got to a "rookie moment" in his debut and that's a promising sign.

After three straight runs produced a three-and-out on the next possession, the offense would go back to play action on the first play of Jones' final drive but the Football Team was ready for it. Jones immediately moved to his second read and fired a pass just out of Wilkerson's reach. On the next play, a straight-up spread, dropback pass, the pocket quickly collapsed and Jones was forced to take the sack. But again, avoiding the major mistake was good to see and Jones would bounce back and take a downfield shot on the next play that was just slightly overthrown to Gunner Olszewski.

There is clearly plenty for the Patriots to work with in the rookie and the reasons why he was a great fit for their offense are already jumping off the screen. For this being his first preseason game action, Jones already looks like he belongs, despite some rookie moments. If he can continue to play safe with the ball and take what the defense gives him, he'll buy himself the necessary time to gain critical experience. Once he has that, the sky is the limit for the rookie at the most important position in the game.

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