The Patriots are being overly conservative with Mac Jones. But it’s better than being reckless.
On Sunday, we saw the tale of two franchises, and why one rookie quarterback has a fighting chance, while the other is destined to fail — at least in green. Zach Wilson just kept throwing and throwing, chucking four interceptions in a historically inept performance. There have been only six zero-touchdown, four-interception games in the past four seasons: three of them belong to Jets quarterbacks. Darnold accomplished the dubious feat twice, and Wilson just joined him. (It's probably not a coincidence that Darnold is 2-0 with the Panthers, and beat the Jets in Week 1.)
There is this apparent belief across the NFL that it’s good for rookie quarterbacks to pass through the pain, regardless of how badly they’re getting beaten or embarrassed. That is the wrong approach. While Peyton Manning led the league in interceptions during his rookie season, he is one of the greatest of all-time.
Few first round picks possess Hall of Fame resiliency, including Wilson.
The Patriots aren’t opening the playbook for Jones. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the rookie’s intended yards average on throws is 5.6. Of the quarterbacks who’ve played two full games, Jones has the third-lowest average in the NFL.
He’s also yet to throw a pass into the end zone.
But on Sunday, Jones didn’t need to take any risks. Wilson threw two picks on his first two throws and essentially handed the Patriots the game. New England left the Meadowlands with a win, and the Jets left in pieces.
It must give Bill Belichick great pleasure to see the cycle of ineptitude repeating itself in New York. When Wilson fails, the Jets will undoubtedly jettison him out of town and fire Robert Saleh, only to bring in a new coach and quarterback.
Rinse and repeat.
Historically, the Patriots start playing their best football in November. By then, we should expect to see the Patriots take more chances with Jones. He’ll have two months of experience, rather than two weeks.
The Patriots are allowing Jones to grow into the job, because they have an established system in place. The Alabama standout is blessed to play under this kind of stability.
Trevor Lawrence would almost certainly trade in his 330-yard debut to be playing under Belichick instead of an overwhelmed Urban Meyer.
The Patriots have been trending towards a more run-based offense for the last couple of seasons — even before Cam Newton arrived. Tom Brady averaged 7.6 intended air yards per attempt in his final season, good for 20th among QBs. The Patriots also ran a more conservative attack in 2018.
Given how Brady is lighting it up in Tampa Bay, perhaps Belichick was wrong to put on the restraints. But he still did.
The immediate success of Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson is perverting the expectations for rookie pass-throwers. It’s important to remember that Mahomes was not a rookie when he took over in Kansas City, and Jackson only started the last seven games of Baltimore’s 2018 season. They were allowed to acclimate themselves to the league from the sidelines.
Justin Herbert and Kyler Murray also lit up the stat sheet as rookies, but Jones doesn’t possess their sheer talent. The Patriots didn’t draft Jones so they could feature an air show. They drafted him so they could win.
Jones is the only quarterback of his class with a “W” so far.