Failure has a way of distorting our perceptions in an overly negative way, and the case study of Mac Jones' play through three games in the 2022 NFL season is a prime example of that.
As of Thursday morning, Mac Jones leads the NFL in deep passing yards (309, via Pro Football Focus) and has provided the Patriots' offense with 13 explosive passing plays -- tied for the most in the NFL. He also had five "big-time throws" in last Sunday's game against the Ravens alone, which is more than he had in any single game last season.
But all anyone can talk about with Jones right now -- aside from the fact that he's probably out for Sunday's game against the Packers with an ankle injury -- is what he's done poorly: throw interceptions (five), look less comfortable in the pocket and lose two of his first three starts this year.
Naturally, this leads some to question if Jones has already reached his ceiling as a player and whether the Patriots should prepare to move on from him sooner rather than later. Michael Lombardi, for some reason, even thinks Jones' play could've eventually cost the quarterback his job had it continued.
Others still might think a few good weeks from Brian Hoyer or Bailey Zappe could start a quarterback controversy in Foxborough -- spoiler alert: it won't.
But for those concerned that Jones' interceptions, in particular, represent a major regression in his game, The Athletic's Diante Lee suggests they're simply part of the second-year quarterback's learning process and are "not a problem" yet.
"I think that now we've just become so spoiled in an NFL culture in general with guys that hit immediately that we forget the fact that those are pretty extreme outliers," Lee said. "You need time, and you need reps, especially if you're learning a new offense. Who Joe Burrow was last season was not who he was two seasons ago now…if we're going to look at things in its totality, we do have to take a breather and just go process-oriented first."
For Lee, that means thinking about how defenses are attacking Jones and what he needs to do to exploit them.
When the Patriots hit their slog at the end of last season, teams were daring Jones and the offense to throw the ball down the field -- something he struggled to do in 2021.
Three games in 2022, he's already almost half way to the 763 deep passing yards he accumulated over his entire rookie season. Though two of his five interceptions have come on down-the-field attempts (20-plus yards), Lee notes those attempts are necessary to make defenses re-think their strategies.
"What we saw last season was a lot of defenses getting in Cover 1, playing tight man-to-man coverage, and really daring him to beat them with his arm. Well, as a quarterback, the only way that you can loosen a defense back up is to try exactly that," Lee said of Jones. "Can he be a little bit better with the decision making when the ball leaves his hands? Sure. Could the ball placement have improved on some of those picks? Certainly. But you have to go through the process of taking the chances. He's got to learn what a downfield throw needs to look like for him."
That last part is key.
Jones will never be as dynamic a deep-ball thrower as Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes or Justin Herbert. But you can still attack defenses down the field without having a rocket arm. You just have to resort to better ball placement and timing -- something Jones is typically well-known for.
While he certainly doesn't seem to have the perfect feel for those throws yet, his five completed passes to DeVante Parker against Baltimore, which all went for more than 20 yards, provided a glimpse of what his more aggressive mindset can accomplish.
As for whether Patriots fans should be out on Jones, Lee said three games into his second season aren't nearly enough to make that decision.
"If you try to evaluate [quarterbacks] on the fly, what you eventually devolve into is stat-line watching. You're always going to be looking at stat lines and highlights and lowlights. And that to me is an awful way to evaluate quarterbacks," he said. "I think that you can evaluate, 'Okay, well, what does this offense look like away from Mac so you can get something to compare it to? … Are there certain throws that the backup is making that Mac Jones is not? Are they calling different plays for your backup that Mac Jones needs to be able to take better advantage of? Are you running the football better?'
"This is going to take much longer than stat-line watching and counting interceptions from the first three weeks of the season to get any kind of definitive answer, if that's what we're after here."
For now, let's see how the Patriots' offense looks with Brian Hoyer at the helm -- or maybe Bailey Zappe if things go poorly.
When Jones returns, it's going to be his show again, and we'll see what he's learned or adjusted during his time off.