The Patriots are trending towards clarity with their quarterback situation heading into Sunday's matchup against the Jets in the Meadowlands.
For the first time since injuring his ankle in Week 3, quarterback Mac Jones is off the injury report after the team practiced inside the field house on Wednesday. According to ESPN's Field Yates, Jones will start vs. the Jets and took "about 90 percent" of the first-team reps at Wednesday's practice.
Although reports indicate Jones will start, head coach Bill Belichick was non-committal before practice at his weekly press conference.
"We'll see how it goes today," Belichick repeated multiple times throughout his availability.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday afternoon, Jones wouldn't confirm ESPN's report that he will start on Sunday in New York but did reiterate that he feels pretty good physically after playing 18 snaps in Monday night's loss to the Bears at Gillette Stadium.
"Those are things we want to work through as the week goes along," Jones said. "We are going to do the week of practice, and then coach Belichick, just like every other week, is going to tell you what you are doing, and how you have to play the game and what we have to do to win. He's done a good job of being very open with me, and I think that's the most important part."
"I plan to start every game I've ever played in, so whether that was in pee-wee football or third-string at Alabama, I always try to prepare as the starter. You can't really control anything else. I work really hard and put myself in a position to do that. Yes, I think I deserve that [to start]."
At this point, hopefully, the two-quarterback system last week and the uncertainty surrounding who will start each week is a thing of the past. But that doesn't mean Jones's struggles with a more vertical-based passing offense will go away as his high-ankle sprain has this week.
According to Pro Football Focus, Jones leads all quarterbacks in the percentage of throws over 20 air yards (20.4) and is second in average target depth (10.4). For comparison, those rates were 11.3% (20-plus yards throws) and 8.3 yards (average target depth) in his rookie season.
"We want to be able to do that, and we have a great offensive line. We've worked on a bunch of different things, but it's ultimately finding what we are comfortable with, what works, gets yards, and scores points. Just trying to work through that and get there."
"They've done a great job explaining things and showing clips and things like that. It's been very fun to learn from coach Patricia, obviously Joe Judge, and coach Belichick. They provide great insight, and I've learned a lot. I'm going to continue to learn from them and guys on the team who may have run those things in the past or have familiarity with stuff like that," Jones told Patriots.com.
With more downfield throws comes the reward of ten completions on deep passes, but with that comes risk, and Jones has a league-high interception rate of 5.8% (six INTs). The Patriots second-year quarterback acknowledged that he needs to make better decisions with the ball.
"Obviously, I need to do a better job of that on a lot of plays, whether it's throwing the ball away or just surviving the play. We want to have those explosive plays. Yes, by percentage, those throws might not be as high. But I think we have really good skill players that can go and make those plays, and I think that's something that is good to know that we have."
As the Patriots continue their preparations for a red-hot Jets team riding a four-game winning streak, New York's defense is ascending rapidly in most statistical categories. The Jets are now tenth in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric and second in expected points added since Week 4.
Things are trending towards the Pats giving a now healthy Jones his starting job back, which makes sense given the larger sample size of good football he has compared to rookie Bailey Zappe.
However, it won't get easier with a trip to the Meadowlands, and if Mac is the long-term answer at quarterback, New England needs to find more balance offensively.