The Patriots are now a week removed from a Monday night loss to the Bears that could've had a lasting impact on their quarterback situation in the short and long term.
After an unorthodox quarterback platoon grabbed headlines, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick named Mac Jones the starter for New England's trip to New York for a critical divisional game against the Jets. Although Belichick wouldn't commit to anything past Week 8, naming Mac the starter early in the week settled things down. But Belichick wouldn't commit to who would be his starting quarterback beyond the Jets game last week.
Despite a pedestrian stat line of 194 passing yards and two more turnover-worthy plays, there don't seem to be any internal questions about who the Patriots starter will be moving forward. To start the week, Belichick had a positive review of Jones's performance against the Jets in his day-after zoom conference with reporters on Monday morning.
"I thought Mac did a nice job. We had pressure on quite a few pass plays, more than we would like, for sure. I thought he made good decisions," Belichick said. "[Mac] had to pull the ball down a couple times and make some key runs for us. The Jets gave us some looks on the line of scrimmage that he had to deal with in the running game, and I thought he handled those well. I thought he gave us a lot of good plays."
On Tuesday, top offensive assistants Joe Judge (QBs) and Matt Patricia (Senior Football Advisor/OL) continued to praise the second-year quarterback for managing the game on Sunday.
"He really did some good things for the team the other day that won't show up on the stat sheet, that won't show up if you just watch the tape and say, 'hey, that's really a big-time play by Mac' without understanding the entirety of the game, or understanding the flow of the game. Where were we score-wise relative to the Jets?"
"I think Mac did a lot of really, really good things on Sunday to help the team win, and again, it's not always the stuff you see on the ESPN highlight reels. It's a lot of the stuff that you see in the film room where everyone else gets to say, hey, that's a really smart play," offensive assistant and quarterbacks coach Joe Judge said.
Although they'll never convince everyone that Jones was better than advertised in Sunday's win over the Jets, there were positive plays, and the offense took steps in the right direction.
For example, when the defense was struggling, the Pats went on a run in the first half where they converted six-of-eight third downs. Jones scrambled for two first downs where there wasn't anyone open downfield and made some key throws in long down and distances.
One of those conversions came on a third-and-ten where Mac made one of his best anticipatory throws of the season to hit Jakobi Meyers on a crossing route where he led Meyers to the other side of a zone-dropping linebacker in a help position with the secondary in man coverage.
There were also instances where a discussion with Patricia following the loss to the Bears paid off for the Patriots offense against a stingy Jets defense that doesn't allow very many explosive passing plays and has a legit pass rush.
"We actually had a long conversation about the three levels of throws and how defenses read those, some of the mannerisms of quarterbacks and what they look for. We had a conversation about how being balanced helps a quarterback give the defense different looks."
"A lot of times, we're trying to take the profit in a situation where we just take what's given to us, which is good," Patricia explained.
With the Patriots play-caller dialing up more deep shots than in years past for Jones in 2022, New England's entire operation has struggled with limiting turnovers while hunting for big plays. Seven of Mac's nine turnover-worthy plays this season have come when he holds the ball for 2.5 seconds or more. Jones also has the tenth-highest turnover-worthy play rate when he holds the ball, waiting for deeper routes to develop downfield (6.4% - out of 34 quarterbacks).
Instead of forcing the ball downfield, Mac found a better balance with taking what the defense gave him and was rewarded on a few occasions for the smart decisions.
Here, the Pats try to get Kendrick Bourne open past the sticks by flooding the right sideline on third down. However, the Jets nickel corner (#30) does well to fall into the passing lane. Rather than forcing the throw or panicking when his first read isn't there, Mac comes off Bourne's route, dumps the ball off to Jonnu Smith on a shallow drag route, and Smith does the rest.
New York's coverage system and pass rush make it difficult for offenses to generate explosive plays through the air, contributing somewhat to the shorter passes on Sunday. But overall, Jones only attempted three deep throws and averaged a season-low 4.7 air yards per pass attempt, a noticeable shift in approach compared to his first three starts.
Besides taking a profit on shorter throws, the Patriots also unleashed a run-pass option package with 13 RPO plays vs. the Jets, by far the most in a game of the Mac era.
By combining run-blocking schemes with bubble and "fast" screens on the perimeter, the Patriots created yards by putting the Jets defense in conflict on early downs. Jones ran RPOs at a high rate in college at Alabama, and that was an off-season emphasis to install those plays.
"I like RPOs. They're cool. I think it puts stress on the defense. I definitely learned in college just watching Coach Saban sometimes explode at practice. He's trying to tell someone to do something, but his guy is running a route, but it's also a run, or is it a pass? So there is a lot of cool grey area there from an offensive perspective," Jones told Patriots.com before his injury.
With the Patriots and Jets set to square off at Gillette Stadium after New England's bye in Week 11, Patricia didn't want to go into much detail about Sunday's shift away from a vertical-based passing game to one we are more accustomed to seeing from the Patriots.
The Pats unofficial offensive play-caller chalked most of it to the Jets defense taking away big plays in the passing game with their zone coverages. In other words, we'll see if the strategy sticks.
Ultimately, scoring 22 points and kicking five field goals when they had four possessions start in Jets territory is not good enough for the Patriots offense. And this game would've changed dramatically had Michael Carter's pick-six before the half stood without a flag on the play.
The Patriots now rank 29th in red zone scoring efficiency. Despite winning the turnover battle against the Jets in the Meadowlands on Sunday, they are also tied for the league lead in offensive giveaways. There's still a long way to go for this group, and the bottom line is that they're 17th in scoring at 22.1 points per game.
However, the sense you get from listening to the coaching staff is that most of the issues were not on the quarterback, as the Patriots are settling back into life with Mac Jones under center.