FOXBORO, MA — Patriots first-round pick Mac Jones took the huddle for the first time in his NFL career with 55 seconds remaining in the first quarter of Thursday night’s preseason opener.
After starting quarterback Cam Newton played the first two drives, Jones was under center for the next five series’ primarily working with second-stringers in New England’s offense. Jones’s opening series was with the starting offensive line and backup skill players.
The rookies’ stat-line was pedestrian, completing 13-of-19 passes for only 87 yards and six points on two Quinn Nordin field goals while Jones was at quarterback, and his average depth of target of 7.6 yards hardly qualified as airing it out.
However, there were moments where Jones was in command of an offense that didn’t give him much to work with, making the best of the situation with solid accuracy and decision making. There were also flashes of the quick processing and anticipation, which are hallmarks of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’s system.
The Patriots’ 53-yard scoring drive to open the second half was particularly impressive by Jones, as the rookie quarterback moved a high-paced no-huddle attack down the field.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said the idea was to simulate a two-minute drill that the offense was hoping to have at the end of the first half.
Plus, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was calling a script that foreshadowed what we could see with Jones in the future: quick passing, deep shots to favorable matchups, run-pass options, a mix of under-center and shotgun, and pace.
Here are Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones’s five-best throws from his NFL debut:
1. M. Jones complete to WR Kristian Wilkerson for Seven Yards on Third-and-Five
McDaniels gives Jones a clear pre-snap picture of the coverage by spreading out the defense on third down. The Patriots call slant-flat at the top of the screen, but Jones sees the numbers to the initial read side are in favor of the defense and works the one-on-one matchup to the backside for Wilkerson. Wilkerson gets open on his route, and Jones makes an in-rhythm throw to move the chains. It’s a simple read and throw, but a good indication that Jones understands what the defense is giving him.
2. M. Jones complete to WR Kendrick Bourne for 13 Yards on First-and-Ten
Here’s a throw that should make Patriots fans excited. The Pats will always incorporate under-center play-action in their offense, and the timing of those plays wasn’t always there last season. Jones gets to the top of his drop on this play and immediately gets the ball out after executing the fake. Then, the throw has enough zip to fit the ball in between four Washington defenders. Those are the types of decisive decisions, and well-placed throws off play-action that the Patriots need.
3. M. Jones incomplete deep to WR Kristian Wilkerson
Yes, one of Jones’s best throws was an incompletion. First, watch the deep safety in the middle of the field. The safety eventually runs off the screen, but he’s moving away from Wilkerson. Jones sees the safety rotate away from Wilkerson and knows he has his receiver one-on-one on the outside. Washington defensive back Torry McTyer makes a good play to recover and contest the pass, but Jones throws a catchable deep ball on a dime.
Wilkerson’s take: “It was a great ball by Mac [Jones]. I have just got to adjust better to it. I have got to do my part. So I just have to go watch the tape and see what I can do better. I could run the defender off better or make a better catch.”
4. M. Jones complete to RB J.J. Taylor for 11 Yards on First-and-Ten
The Pats’ rookie makes another good quarterback play look easy on this one. Sure, it’s a short check-down to running back J.J. Taylor. But Jones reads the second level of the defense dropping underneath his intermediate options and makes a quick decision to get the ball in Taylor’s hands. Getting the ball out quickly allows Taylor to pick up 11 yards on the play because the linebackers don’t have a chance to close on the short throw. Another good example of Jones taking what the defense gives him.
5. M. Jones complete to WR Kristian Wilkerson for Eight Yards on Third-and-Three
This example has everything from Jones: anticipation, ball placement, and quick processing. Jones sees the linebacker follow the running back into the flat, creating a passing lane to Wilkerson. He then reads that the man-coverage defender has inside positioning and throws Wilkerson open to the wideouts’ outside hip for a first down. That’s a great read of the cornerbacks’ leverage to find the opening in the defense.
A 20 drop-back sample in a preseason game against backups certainly won’t get Mac Jones enshrined in Canton just yet.
But the rookie quarterback showed the poise and accuracy that made Jones an intriguing prospect.
If Jones continues to build on Thursday night’s performance, he’ll develop into the player the Patriots need at the position.