You’ve probably heard by now that rookie Mac Jones delivered a thoroughly impressive performance in his first start as a New England Patriots quarterback.
But what made Jones’ regular-season NFL debut so promising? Beyond the positive stat line (29 of 39, 281 yards, one touchdown, no turnovers), what did he show in the 17-16 loss to the Miami Dolphins that made it so clear he was the correct QB choice for the Patriots?
As New England begins to shift its focus toward Sunday’s Week 2 matchup with the New York Jets, let’s take a closer look at five of Jones’ best throws from Week 1 — and a few plays he probably wants back.
FIVE BEST PLAYS
5. Third-down floater to Jakobi Meyers
Jones’ final throw of the afternoon. Key moment. Third-and-6 from just across midfield.
Edge rusher Emmanuel Ogbah — a frequent visitor to the Patriots’ backfield on Sunday — swam past right guard Shaq Mason and had a clear path to Jones. With no space to step into his throw, Jones backpedaled, took a slight hop and lofted a pass over the onrushing Ogbah and a leaping Adam Butler. It landed in the stomach of a sliding Meyers, who’d separated from star cornerback Xavien Howard, for a first down.
It was one of four Jones-to-Meyers third-down conversions in the game. Six plays later, Damien Harris fumbled inside the 10-yard line, and the Patriots never regained possession.
4. Touchdown to Nelson Agholor
Patriots fans know how hard Elandon “Run Through A (Expletive)’s Face” Roberts hits. Jones witnessed that firsthand when the Dolphins linebacker truck-sticked running back Rhamondre Stevenson and drilled Jones low. That hit drew a roughing-the-passer penalty, extending the Patriots’ drive.
Just two plays later, Jones stood in the pocket as Roberts brushed past Damien Harris on a B-gap blitz. He faked a handoff to Harris and, knowing an impact was imminent, set his feet and delivered a quick pass in the flat to Agholor, who shook a defender and spun into the end zone.
3. Deep middle to Agholor
Jones doesn’t boast the strongest arm in his draft class, but he put the necessary mustard on this 25-yard seed to Agholor. A subtle pump fake to his right moved the dropping linebacker, clearing a window for the streaking wideout. Agholor, who brings a much-needed vertical element to New England’s offense, did well to hang on through contact from deep safety Jason McCourty.
This was one of two Jones completions that traveled more than 20 yards downfield in the air.
2. Over the shoulder to James White
Touch and anticipation. That’s what Jones displayed on this rainbow to White that picked up 26 yards on third-and-11.
White had about six centimeters of separation from linebacker Jerome Baker when Jones released this pass:
But he trusted his receiver to get open and placed the ball in the perfect spot:
Jones and White hooked up on a number of those wheel routes during training camp, including one in joint practice with the New York Giants. This was the longest of New England’s 11 third-down conversions (on 16 tries) and Jones’ longest completion of the day.
1. Deep left to Agholor
The most difficult throws for NFL quarterbacks to make are intermediate-to-deep passes outside the numbers. Those are even harder when you have a pass rusher about to smash you in the face.
The most impressive completion of Jones’ debut combined both of those factors. Facing second-and-15 from his own 14, down a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, Jones absorbed a shot from linebacker Sam Eguavoen and fired a 21-yard strike to Agholor along the left sideline.
Though Eguavoen’s pressure prevented Jones from stepping into his throw, he delivered the ball to his wideout’s outside shoulder before safety Eric Rowe arrived.
The completion was one of the few examples of aggressiveness in what overall was a rather conservative game from Jones and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. (His average intended air yards ranked 26th among Week 1 quarterbacks, per NFL Next Gen Stats.)
When Eguavoen looped around left tackle Isaiah Wynn on a stunt, Jones could have checked down to White or tight end Hunter Henry, both of whom were open underneath.
Instead, he hung in, knowing a hit was coming, and attacked downfield. It was an encouraging moment in a game full of them for the first-round draft pick.
Honorable mention: Scramble drill to Kendrick Bourne
This one didn’t count, but it was worth highlighting.
The play was called back for a hold on replacement right tackle Justin Herron, and Jones might have been sacked had Herron not grabbed a fistful of Ogbah’s jersey. But Jones, who was dinged for his relative lack of mobility during the pre-draft process, stepped up to avoid Ogbah, sprinted to his right and, while being dragged down from behind by Baker, zinged an on-the-money pass to Bourne 25 yards downfield.
The flag erased what would have been a 33-yard gain.
Jones also had two notable hookups with Henry in a four-play span, hitting him for 16 yards while being leveled by a blitzing linebacker on the first and then audibling the tight end into a more advantageous third-down route on the second.
He completed passes to eight of the Patriots’ 11 active skill players, leaving out only receiver Gunner Olszewski (who was on the field for just three passing plays), running back Brandon Bolden (one) and fullback Jakob Johnson (five).
— Jones’ only glaring miscue came when he appeared to spike the ball backward on his very first dropback, resulting in a fumble and a 13-yard loss that pushed New England out of field-goal range. He faced immediate pressure on the play — cornerback Byron Jones beat tight end Jonnu Smith around the edge — and seemed to panic.
“I should have just thrown it away,” Jones lamented after the game. “It was that simple. Yeah, just throw it away and move on to the next down.”
Jones said some of the hits he took resulted from him not getting the ball out when he needed to, and this was the most obvious example.
He quickly regained his poise, though, and was much better under pressure from that point forward. The Dolphins were credited with nine QB hits, and Jones completed passes on six of those plays, producing a first down or touchdown on four of them. He also went 16-for-20 for 138 yards when blitzed, per Pro Football Focus.
— Jones’ accuracy was strong overall, but his ball placement did waver on a couple of short throws to the flat. He put one just out of White’s reach on one play and could have given Meyers a better ball on a key third-and-4.
The latter should have been caught — it hit Meyers in the hands — but Jones could have lowered the degree of difficulty for his wideout.
Jones and Meyers also weren’t on quite the same page on a throw over the middle that was bobbled by Meyers and nearly intercepted.
— The All-22 coaches film of this game has not yet been made publicly available. That probably reveals a few open downfield receivers that Jones didn’t spot or chose not to target. And 16 points obviously is not enough to win many games in the NFL. The Patriots’ Jones-led offense will need better execution in and around the red zone moving forward.
Overall, though, it’s hard to find any major gripes about the rookie’s first pro performance. It will be interesting to see whether McDaniels tweaks his game plan at all for Week 2.
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