One year ago, the Patriots were already well into their offseason, staring down the barrel of a critical offseason with plenty of roster holes that needed to be filled. None of those holes was bigger than at the most important position in the game as New England looked to navigate their way into the organization's next phase with a new signal-caller.
Cut to January 2022 and the team is preparing for a return to the playoffs after putting together a 10-7 season under rookie quarterback Mac Jones, who was taken 15th overall, won the starting job in camp and then started all 17 games of the regular season. Jones is a reason to be optimistic about the future, after making significant strides and gaining a ton of experience in his first season.
"Depending on the player, sometimes you have to maybe address one thing or two things at a time and then that's it and kind of go to the next thing," said Josh McDaniels this week when asked about Mac's development over the course of the season. "Mac is a guy that if you give him five or six things that we need to try to work on, to try to tweak and improve, he really takes all those things and tries to do the best he can with the practice time we have and what we've asked of him. He continues to do that and that's a never-ending process with quarterbacks. We try to do the best we can to improve those areas for him and he works really hard at trying to get better."
This week, Jones is applying the lessons he's learned since his arrival in Foxborough as he readies for the playoff tilt in Buffalo.
"Obviously, there's a lot you have to put into it as a team, as a player, as an offense," said Jones on Wednesday. "Regardless of what level you're playing on, you understand what's at stake from both sides of the ball. The team you're playing understands that and then obviously you have to understand that too. I think it's more about just doing a little more but you've gotta stick to what you know and you just have to prepare like you always have, regardless of the situation.
"There's not a lot of room for error. There's more pressure. That's what makes it fun."
While there's nothing that can be taken away from Jones' solid rookie season, the playoffs are a different animal and he has an opportunity to show how far he has come in his first season as a starter. While the Bills game won't define Mac, it will be one that is remembered.
"Mac's been consistent and done a good job for us all year," said Bill Belichick on Wednesday. "We all know, at every position, every player, every coach, we all know we're going to have to be at our best Saturday night against Buffalo and that's what we're all preparing to do."
Practice & Injury Report
The Patriots moved inside the stadium for Wednesday's practice because, in the words of Bill Belichick, "It's not frozen." Though the temperatures were higher than they were on Tuesday it was still chilly with a brisk wind as the Pats started their on-field preparations for the Bills. In the good news department, Christian Barmore was at practice and did not look to be heavily limited, but in the bad news department, Isaiah Wynn, Kyle Dugger and Jamie Collins were not spotted, nor were Jalen Mills and Shaun Wade who are both on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
Collins was listed as a non-participant with an ankle injury on the Injury Report, while Wynn was listed with both hip and ankle ailments. Dugger was listed as limited despite not being spotted for the initial practice periods that reporters had access to.
Quotes of Note
Matthew Judon on the playoffs:
"We've got to approach it with a live or die attitude. You don't get another one. You don't get a second chance, you don't get a redo right here. All we wanted was a ticket to the dance. We got that, we're in the playoffs and now we got to go make it happen."
Trent Brown on what it takes to win in the postseason:
"Preparation. Attention to detail, the same thing it takes to win in the regular season. You've got to be willing to do the same things in the postseason. Just take it up a notch, of course, you can't play the same, it's win or home now. You've got to bring the energy and that focus and you've got to do that for 60 minutes, each opportunity that you get in the postseason."