The way the first 10 games went, it was easy to wonder if Mac Jones would ever get out of the hole he had fallen into. If he would ever stop his slide from promising young NFL quarterback, to not long for this league.
His performance against the Vikings on Thanksgiving night, however, provided some hope for the future. It saw him emerge from the abyss, and once again look like he was headed for bigger and better things.
Jones went toe-to-toe with Kirk Cousins during the 33-26 loss, which dropped the Patriots to 6-5.
He picked apart the Vikings defense for a career-high 382 yards and two touchdowns on 28-of-39 passing. It marked his second 300-plus yard game of the season, and for the third straight game, he didn’t throw any picks or commit any turnovers.
Considering the Patriots only had two offensive touchdowns in the last three games, this was a major breakthrough.
Jones had the offense moving most of the night. He just wasn’t able to deliver late in the fourth quarter when the Patriots desperately needed a score.
Of course, there was a Hunter Henry touchdown in the third quarter that was reversed on a controversial call. That might have changed the course if the Patriots didn’t have to settle for a field goal.
But given it was hard to believe the Patriots could match scores with an elite offense like the Vikings at the outset, this was an encouraging performance from the second-year quarterback.
The Patriots scored on six of their first seven possessions before stalling after that.
Seeing Jones comes alive, though, was an important development for the Patriots going forward.
With a clean pocket most of the night, with the offensive line — minus center David Andrews and tackle Isaiah Wynn — providing good protection, Jones looked like a completely different quarterback.
He just confidently delivered the football whether a short, intermediate or long pass. It helped that he was playing against a secondary that had allowed the second-most passing yards per game, and the second-highest completion percentage (69%), but based on how far Jones had sunk, he needed a breakthrough, and it didn’t matter which defense it was against.
“I didn’t feel pressure at all, hardly. Hats off to them for playing a great game,” Jones said of his offensive line. “And the run game, too. If we can just continue to do that, I think a lot of things will go our way.”
Jones hit six different receivers. Devante Parker had four catches for 80 yards, Rhamondre Stevenson nine catches for 76 yards, and Nelson Agholor added six catches for 65 yards and a touchdown. Hunter Henry (3 catches, 63 yards), Jakobi Meyers (3 catches 62 yards) and Kendrick Bourne (3 catches 36 yards) were also involved.
“I don’t ever try to single anyone out. Wherever the play takes me, that’s where I’m throwing it,” he said. “I think that’s cool about this offense. You don’t know when it’s going to come to you, but it can come to you on any play … we just have to build on the things we did well, and correct on the things we haven’t.”
Tops on the list is their red zone production. It remains a concern with the offense settling for four Nick Folk field goals, three of those coming in the red zone with the offense stopped at the 16-, 5- and 6-yard line.
They were also 3-for-10 on third down conversions. Still not good enough.
Following the overturned touchdown, the Patriots failed to score on their final four drives of the night.
So there’s still work to do.
“Definitely not the result we wanted, but there’s no time to kind of drag and feel sorry for ourselves,” said Jones. “Definitely a lot of things we can do better.”
Jones said it was a matter of building off adversity. For one game at least, he seemed to push whatever issues that were hindering him aside, and look more like the Mac of old, even in defeat.
“We all played with effort and toughness,” said Jones. “That’s all you can ask you. We want to be able to score more points and win the game. That’s all that I care about. That’s all that we care about is winning, and we didn’t do that tonight.”