Somewhere along the line over the last year-plus a hint of hopeless helplessness settled into New England. It wasn’t an extreme, Jacksonville variant of the feeling, but it was there.
Tom Brady’s free agent bolt to the Bucs fueled uncertainty, doubt and anger in Patriot Nation that hadn’t been felt in decades.
Bill Belichick began to be questioned like never before after allowing/pushing Brady to leave town.
The Patriots at times dismal 2020 performances only magnified the negative feelings, emotions that an entire generation of New England fans had never felt before. Meanwhile in Tampa Bay a normally downtrodden team realized newfound Super success.
Cam Newton’s often dismal performances in juxtaposition to Brady’s ageless heroics in his new southern home exacerbated it all.
Patriots fans found themselves questioning their own loyalties. The fan base developed divisions and split personalities.
But hope has returned to the Patriots for 2021 and his name is Michael McCorkle Jones. But you can call him Mac.
Fresh off a cigar-smoking national title, the former Alabama star arrived with the No. 15 overall pick to fulfill Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s very public desire to solidify his team’s quarterback position after one less-than-entertaining, not-nearly-good-enough first season post-GOAT in New England.
Though Newton was still hanging around and supposedly competing for the starting job this spring and summer, anyone with eyes or an ability to read the room new Jones was a candidate to take over the team.
Jones immediately began to do just that.
We heard about his sneaky, somewhat unexpected “swagger” from new teammates.
Guys like Brady’s former right-hand Super Bowl man and team captain James White praised how Jones commanded the huddle.
Even defensive players like mainstay Dont’a Hightower and newcomer Matt Judon felt and almost excitedly shared the positive vibes they got from Jones.
Heck, even his competition for the starting job, Newton,noted the youngster’s “pristine” preparation.
Oh it was a plan, and it was a plan to replace a legend that was coming together even faster than maybe Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels could have expected.
Charlie Weis, the guy who molded Brady’s early-career success and an architect of the system still run in New England, predicted last winter long before Jones landed with the Patriots that the young quarterback had “it.”
He sure does. And “it” has created a hope in New England that hasn’t been seen in decades. Because it hasn’t been needed in decades.
For the bulk of Brady’s tenure, hope was replaced by simple, well-deserved expectation. The expectation was New England was going to make the playoffs, win the AFC East, advance deep into January and, many times, go to the Super Bowl. That was the gilded life of a Patriots fan.
It was Super Bowl or bust. A loss in the AFC title game was a relative failure.
Success was another Lombardi for Kraft’s trophy room.
Coming up short was finishing as the second-, third- or fourth-best team in football.
But the reality of 2020 – Brady going strong in his move to Tampa Bay while the Patriots floundered under the leadership of Belichick and Newton – created the need for the hope that is Jones debut for 2021.
This isn’t all that dissimilar if somewhat less dramatic than Sept. 5, 1993 when No.1 overall pick Drew Bledsoe debuted for Bill Parcells’ Patriots, a team that had won a measly two games a year prior.
The Bledsoe and Parcells pairing brought hope and stability to New England.
When the questions at quarterback are answered, it’s a lot easier to deal with the rest of the issues that face a football team.
The 1993 Patriots learned that. Playoff appearances and Super Bowl trips soon followed.
The 2021 Patriots are doing the same.
And this time around, at least on paper, it’s a far shorter road back to competing once again for playoff spots, division titles and, yes, Super Bowls.
That’s the kind of hope that a franchise quarterback brings to an NFL team.
That’s the kind of hope that Mac Jones has rekindled for a team barely removed from the most successful dynasty that modern football, nay, modern sports has ever seen.
Opening day is just about upon us. When the Patriots take to the Gillette Stadium turf Sunday evening against the division-rival Dolphins it’s very much a new begging. The dawn of a new era, an era of hope that aspires to grow into expectation.
Regardless of whether you call it hope or hype, the excitement surrounding Jones’ NFL debut is very real. It’s the kind of new hope that hasn’t been felt in Foxborough in nearly 30 years.