The Other McCain

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Mac Jones Doesn’t Expect to Lose

Posted on | August 19, 2022 | Comments Off on Mac Jones Doesn’t Expect to Lose

Mac Jones is expected to start at quarterback tonight when the New England Patriots host the Carolina Panthers in their second preseason game. Last week against the Giants, Mac and the first string didn’t play, so veteran backup QB Brian Hoyer and rookie Bailey Zappe got all the reps. This week, the Patriots held two days of joint practice with the Panthers, and both days were marked by fights between the players, which most observers seemed to suggest were provoked by Carolina.

In Wednesday’s practice, Mac threw the kind of pass you generally don’t want to see, targeting wide receiver Nelson Agholor in double coverage, but it was aimed so precisely that Agholor was able to jump over Carolina cornerbacks Jaycee Horn and Myles Hartsfield to make the catch.

That’s the kind of high-risk pass that great quarterbacks sometimes have to make — trust the receiver to fight for what commentators call the “contested catch” — and the fact that Mac Jones was willing to try it, even in practice, says something about his confidence going into his second season in the NFL. One of Mac’s best passes last year was a 22-yard touchdown strike to Kendrick Bourne in between two Cleveland Browns defenders. It was a truly great play, both for the receiver and the quarterback, and the Patriots are going to have to make more great plays like that if they hope to compete in the AFC East this season. Many analysts expect the Buffalo Bills, who beat New England in two out of three meetings last year, to make it to the Super Bowl this season, and the Miami Dolphins (who beat the Patriots twice last season) are expected to be greatly improved, having signed All-Pro receiver Tyreek Hill as a free agent from the Kansas City Chiefs. The Patriots are very much the underdogs in their division this season, and New England owner Robert Kraft made a pointed remark in the spring that the team hasn’t won a playoff game in three years. The pressure on Mac is heavy.

New England fans have been fretting this off-season because the Patriots lost their longtime offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, who left to become head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders. Bill Belichick’s apparent plan to replace McDaniels has all the NFL analysts scratching their heads in disbelief. Belichick brought back two former assistants, Matt Patricia and Joe Judge, who had failed in head coaching jobs for other teams (Patricia with the Detroit Lions, Judge with the Giants). Neither of them has any experience as an offensive coordinator, but through the preseason, appeared to be splitting the play-calling duties. Longtime Boston sports writer Tom Curran has slammed what he calls Belichick’s “inexplicably slapdash approach” to the coaching staff assignments, and everybody in the media who follows the Patriots has expressed concern for how this could affect Jones’s development in his second season.

“In Bill we trust,” as they say in Boston — Belichick has won six Super Bowls, so surely he must know what he’s doing, right? While everybody’s wringing their hands over the Patriots offense, meanwhile there are encouraging signs of improvement on the New England defense. Last year, the Patriots defense broke down late in the season — they notoriously couldn’t force Buffalo to punt a single time — but in this week’s joint practices with the Panthers, they looked very strong. Everybody is singing the praises of second-year defensive tackle Christian Barmore, Jalen Mills has been a standout at cornerback, and there have been signs of promise from linebacker Anfernee Jennings and rookie cornerback Marcus Jones. Football is a team sport, and if the New England defense is stronger this season, that will help relieve some of the pressure on Mac Jones and the defense. If the defense can reliably limit opponents to 10 or 14 points, the offense never feels like they’re out of the game, even when they’re behind. During New England’s seven-game winning streak last year, their defense held opponents to 13 points or less in six games. If the Patriots can match that kind of defensive performance consistently this year, the worries about who’s running their offense will be greatly alleviated. Which brings us back to . . .

Mac Jones. Whatever else happens with the Patriots this season, their quarterback will be closely scrutinized. The shadow of Tom Brady looms large over Foxborough, and the kid from Alabama knows he’s got to reach a very high standard to be recognized as worthy in New England.

He is competing with a legend. He doesn’t expect to lose.



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