On the third day, Mac Jones very much looked the part.
After some uneven performances on Monday and Tuesday without Cam Newton, Jones enjoyed his best day as the starter by far – and perhaps his best practice overall – in steamy Foxborough in the first of two joint sessions with the Giants.
Jones took all the reps in 11-on-11 work against the Giants defense and was far and away the best quarterback on the field. With third-year starter Daniel Jones lining up on the other side, that statement should not be taken lightly. (Although in fairness to the Giants, their offense was without several top weapons including Kenny Golladay and Saquon Barkley among others).
Mac Jones once again appeared to be in control of the offense and threw with conviction. The difference between today and most others, aside from the presence of an opposing defense, was the frequency of his downfield throws. He ripped several outs beyond the sticks toward the sidelines as well as a handful of deep in-cuts and other deep routes.
Perhaps his best throw of the day came late in the final 11-on-11 period when he lofted a perfect deep ball of about 40 yards to Jakobi Meyers, who did a great job of high-pointing the ball between a pair of New York defenders for a huge gain inside the 5. Shortly thereafter he used a nice play fake to find James White all alone for the touchdown.
If the Meyers throw wasn't his best, another connection with White likely was. White headed down the right sideline on a wheel route and had a step on the Giants linebacker. Jones' throw was in the air well before the back turned his head and allowed the running back to adjust to the back shoulder throw for another big gain. It showed great timing and accuracy as a throw out front may have allowed the defender to scramble back into the play, but the ball placement made it so only White could grab it.
While it's often dangerous to read too much into body language and other subjective elements, Jones appeared to be gaining confidence with each ensuing period. He excitedly slapped five with several of his receivers after completions and was demonstrative in his actions following touchdowns. In short, Jones looked like he was feeling it and was happy with his efforts.
Whether or not that will allow him to truly enter into the fray for a possible Week 1 start remains to be seen. Newton is due to return on Thursday, and with the abundance of work Jones received Wednesday it would not be shocking to see Newton right back in the mix. The difference is now the incumbent might have to match the rookie's performance in order to maintain his status.
"[Jones is] working really hard getting a lot of reps now," White said after practice. "He's taking control of the huddle and doing the best he can to make sure we're all on the same page and going out and executing. He's trying to get better and better. To control the offense as a quarterback you have to demand the best out of everyone. When you step in that huddle you have to take control and he's doing that."
For those looking to see how Jones would respond to his opportunity to garner the bulk of the work without Newton, Wednesday was the day they were looking for.
Beyond Jones' strong day, here are one man's impressions of Day 18 of Patriots training camp.
*There were a couple of additions to the absentee list on Wednesday as Justin Bethel and Josh Uche were among those not spotted on Wednesday. They joined Newton (COVID protocols), N'Keal Harry (shoulder), Matt LaCosse (head), Tre Nixon and Nock Thurman on the injured list. In addition, there were no changes to the lists as Jarrett Stidham, Stephon Gilmore, Terez Hall and Byron Cowart remain on PUP while Joshuah Bledsoe and Cameron McGrone are still on NFI.
*While there wasn't much movement in terms of injuries, it was an eventful 24 hours for the team in terms of transactions. The most noteworthy move came early in the morning when word circulated that New England traded Sony Michel to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for conditional picks. The deal will be for a compensatory fourth-round pick if the Rams receive one; otherwise the Patriots get a fifth and sixth from L.A. Ivan Fears spoke glowingly about Michel's work this summer earlier in the week, and ESPN's Adam Schefter said the Patriots actually turned down the Rams overtures about the running back last week but evidently changed course. The emergence of rookie Rhamondre Stevenson likely made Bill Belichick comfortable letting Michel go.
*That wasn't the only item of interest as the team claimed tight end Kahale Waring off waivers from Houston. Waring adds some much-needed depth to the position and was wearing No. 88 in practice. He came up with a terrific diving catch in 1-on-1 drills early in practice but didn't get any reps in team periods as he adapts to his new surroundings.
*The Patriots officially made several moves to get to the league-mandated 80-man roster limit, releasing Devin Ross, Malik Gant, Cash Maluia, Brian Khoury and R.J. Prince. The Patriots also placed veteran offensive lineman Marcus Martin on injured reserve.
*Finally, the Patriots had three players (other than quarterbacks) wearing red, non-contact jerseys: Myles Bryant, Hunter Henry and Brandon Bolden. Bolden missed the previous two practices with an undisclosed injured but returned, at least on a limited basis. Henry caught several passes in both 1-on-1s and 7-on-7s as he works his way back from a shoulder injury suffered in practice on August 8.
*Several guests on hand to check on the Patriots and Giants workout. Tedy Bruschi chatted with Gunner Olszewski for a bit before practice. Bruschi has been a semi-regular at camp this summer. Fellow ex-linebacker Rob Ninkovich was also in attendance. Long-time Belichick favorite Jon Bon Jovi, who is a frequent visitor to camp, also was seen.
*The early 1-on-1 work was fast and furious taking place in four separate corners of the practice fields. It started with some pursuit tackling drills with runners catching short throws while defenders dropped to the ground before getting back on their feet and cutting down the angle as tacklers.
*From there the work was more traditional with receivers and defensive backs, linebackers and running backs and offensive and defensive linemen working together. Trent Brown turned in a dominant rep against linebacker Oshane Ximines. Brown turned Ximines around before pancaking him to the turf to end the rep.
*The linemen work wasn't without incident, however, as tempers flared following one rep in involving the Patriots offensive line and the Giants pass rushers. It was hard to see how it started but every player on both teams wound up in a huge pile following a play that began with two players from each side. Despite lengthy attempts by both coaching staffs to put an end to the skirmish, it continued for a bit before players involved on both sides went for laps. In a sign of solidarity, Mac Jones joined his linemen, as did coach Carmen Bricillo.
*Both sides got some punt team work in. Matthew Slater, Dee Virgin, Adrian Colbert, Jonathan Jones, Kristian Wilkerson and D'Angelo Ross all took reps as gunners while Jake Bailey was doing the punting. Olszewski, Meyers and Taylor handled punt returns when the Giants were doing the kicking during a special teams segment later in practice.
*One of Jones' rare poor decisions came during an early 11-on-11 period when he tried to force one deep down the middle in the direction of Nelson Agholor. Agholor was double covered on the play, and Giants cornerback Julian Love stepped in for the interception. Love dropped the ball as he started to run before he secured it and after conferring the officials ruled it incomplete.
*Shortly after the Giants Jones wasn't as fortunate. He, too, tried to force one into tight coverage across the middle but threw directly to Kyle Dugger, who made the easy pick.
*Much of the second half of practice was devoted to hurry-up and two-minute drills. Mac Jones was sharp in both settings. He hit Meyers on a nice deep crosser and followed that with a nice out to Wilkerson along the sideline. He then tried to hit Meyers in heavy traffic but New York was flagged for a hold, continuing the drive. The beautiful wheel route to White followed and after spiking the ball to stop the clock Nick Folk came on for a 32-yard field goal.
*The Patriots defense completing suffocated the Giants passing attack, leaving Daniel Jones with very few options. Jones took plenty of checkdowns underneath the coverage but was unable to generate any consistent momentum unless he was using his feet. New York called several zone read runs and Jones seemed to find some daylight on a few of them. Otherwise the coverage was stout, led by J.C. Jackson. Graham Gano was forced to boot a 51-yard field goal to close things out.
*After those two drives both Isaiah Wynn and Agholor left practice and did not return. Each walked off slowly with trainers, and it's possible they were feeling the effects of the extreme conditions. Members of the Giants also left the practice early.
Check out photos of the Patriots and Giants during joint practices in Foxboro, Mass. on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2021.
*With Wynn out of the lineup, Yodny Cajuste took over for the remainder of the day at left tackle. He seemed to handle his duties well as there weren't any apparent breakdowns in pass protection in his direction. Cajuste appears to be making a strong run at a swing tackle job, joining Justin Herron and Korey Cunningham in that competition.
*The next 11-on-11 segment took place in the red zone and Jones once again was sharp. On consecutive plays he hit Olszewski and White for easy touchdowns. The first saw Jones fake a pitch to the right before spinning back to his left and hitting Olszewski on a crosser along the backline of the end zone. The lone blemish was an illegal procedure penalty, a pre-snap penalty that can be particularly damaging down inside the 5. Folk closed that period with field goals of 38 and 46 yards.
*After being frustrated for most of their offensive series, the Giants finally enjoyed some success when Jones found tight end Jake Housman for a nice touchdown.
*Practice appeared to be over at that point but the teams went well beyond the scheduled two hours and each side ran length of the field two-minute drills. Jones underthrew Kendrick Bourne to start but when hit him in traffic to get things going. He followed with an out to Jonnu Smith before Oslzewski grabbed a dig route while being held. Jones followed with the bomb to Meyers that was arguably the play of the day. He then showed great poise by avoiding the rush before throwing it away by the goal posts, setting up an easy toss to White in the end zone for the touchdown.
*The Giants closed practice with some sprints on the hills, something Joe Judge no doubt remembered well from his days in New England.
*David Andrews, Bourne, Lawrence Guy, Olszewski and White chatted with the media after practice.
*The Patriots and Giants will get together one more time before they close the preseason on Sunday at the Meadowlands (6 p.m. kickoff). The final practice open to the public kicks off on Thursday at 10 a.m. with gates set to open at 9 a.m.