Mac Jones needs to look out for No. 1.
Or in this case, Jones needs to look out for the guy wearing the No. 1-0 jersey in the mirror.
Facing the first injury of his football life that’s ever threatened his ability to play in a game, Jones’ reported severe high ankle sprain has been THE story of Patriot Nation this week.
On the surface, he’s taking it “day by day,” the phrase that he first used on Monday, barely 24 hours after suffering the injury in the loss to the Ravens that had Jones hopping off the Gillette Stadium field in agony after the final offensive play of the disappointing afternoon.
A couple days later Bill Belichick went viral by uttering that same phrase more than a dozen times, shedding no light on his budding quarterback’s health or timeline to return.
There were reports this week of Jones seeking a second opinion, which any right-minded human being would do.
But as the week wore on, NFL Network indicated that despite his absence from the practice field Jones had “told multiple teammates to not count him out of this weekend's game at Green Bay.”
Maybe a miracle is coming. Maybe Jones’ “day by day” recovery is advancing at what would seemingly be a record clip.
Or maybe Jones is simply taking part in some Belichickian ruse in order to keep all the football world – including the Packers – in the dark in terms of his Pro Bowl quarterback’s status.
The reality is that there are a lot of maybes with any injury and that’s OK, especially with an injury that at least appeared severe enough to miss games but maybe not requiring surgery or a trip to IR.
The one thing there shouldn’t be, though, is pressure on Jones to push the point to return to the field sooner rather than later. If he didn’t already know that, it’s a lesson he learned watching the horrific hit and aftermath on former Alabama teammate Tua Tagovailoa on Thursday Night Football, a hit that the Dolphins’ QB probably should have never been on the field in a position to take. But he was, landing him strapped to stretcher for a trip to the hospital and now embroiled in a pretty significant controversy regarding how his health has been handled over the last week.
No, Jones isn’t dealing with a possible head injury and the unknowns that it represents.
But he is dealing with the first significant injury of his career.
He is likely dealing with the perceived pressures to return to action as soon as possible, whether those pressures are self-imposed or external. That’s pressure that’s always been inherent in the macho world of football and, to some degree, probably always will be.
Either way, he should ignore those pressures, even if they come on some level from New England’s dynastic dictator of football, Belichick himself.
Because the only thing that should matter to Jones or the Patriots for that matter, is his health and long term future.
The reality is that while many a player may feel the burden of expectation of a swift return from injury, that burden falls harder on those with limited leverage. Later draft picks, lower slots on the roster, guys with competitive backups all feel the need to be on the field to retain their jobs probably more than reasonable health-minded decisions would indicate.
But Jones isn’t in that spot. Despite his suspect play to start the season – and former Patriots’ assistant Mike Lombardi’s laughable assertion that the second-year quarterback could have been in danger of losing his job due to his flurry of September interceptions – the former No. 15 overall pick is on about as solid a footing on the New England depth chart as any player.
Belichick needs Jones more than Jones needs Belichick at this point. Belichick is the one in the third season post-Tom Brady trying to retool the Patriots on the fly and meet boss Robert Kraft’s challenge of fielding a contender every season, something New England has not been for three-plus years now.
Belichick needs Jones to validate supposed newfound collaborative success in recent drafts to make people forget the dismal picks over the years that helped put the Patriots in their current roster predicament of having few-to-none homegrown impact playmakers.
Belichick needs Jones to be the foundation upon which the next successful era of Patriots football will be built upon.
Jones need not look over his shoulder and worry about his job, his playing time or his future. All those will be decided by how he plays and how quickly New England surrounds him with adequate talent and offensive coaching.
As Jones decides exactly how to handle HIS injury with HIS ankle while weighing HIS ability to get back on the field, HIS health and future are all that matter.
This isn’t to say that Belichick or the team has other motivations in mind. They very well may and very much should be aligned with Jones’ self-preservation interests. Or, maybe they even need to protect him from his competitive self.
But in the end, Jones should – and has the leverage to be able to – do what’s in his own best interests. And there is nothing that anyone else can – or should – be able to do about it.
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