After a passable few days of practice against a feisty Carolina Panthers defense, the vibe surrounding the Patriots' offense simply feels a bit different.
It's still clearly not regular-season-ready, of course. In particular, it would be nice if they could have a successful running play more than once every four or five attempts. Also, Mac Jones shouldn't have to scramble for touchdowns in red-zone drills or hold onto the ball for four seconds in 7-on-7s as he did a few times on Wednesday.
The offensive line chemistry remains a work in progress, and the ride might get bumpy if Isaiah Wynn's health forces Yodny Cajuste into the starting lineup more frequently. The receivers are still figuring out their spacing on route combinations, with two straight plays during the first-team offense's two-minute drive where two guys were in the same area.
But through it all, Jones -- the most important piece of the whole puzzle -- started playing like himself again. The last two days of joint practices blended Jones' ability to keep out of trouble -- his desperation heavy at the "buzzer" in team drills notwithstanding -- and the spring-camp aggressiveness down the field that had people excited, with multiple "wow" completions to DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, and Jakobi Meyers.
He looks like he's on the cusp of figuring out what this offense wants of him, and he said as much after Wednesday's session.
"I think we laid our foundation of what we want to do and what the coaches want to do. We’ve definitely bought into that," he said. There’s things that I’ve done in the past. There are things that I like, and we’re trying to incorporate them more. Or things that Coach Belichick sees on film he’s like, ‘Hey what do you think about this?’ So it’s very fluid and for them to be able to take some of our thoughts is really important.
"I think the really good offenses in the NFL, you can tell that the play callers and the quarterback are on the same page. So I think we’re getting there and that’s the progress we need, and I’ve been really pleased with that."
Jones even took a little half-dig at the doubters that mirrored Belichicks "not-all-good-plays-are-actually-good" comments last week: "If you really know football, you can see there was only a handful of bad plays out here," he said.
That's certainly a change from the young quarterback's admissions of frustration and declarations of "I'll figure it out, I always have" uttered just a week ago.
Barely audible beneath Jones' more feel-good -- while still slightly defiant -- comments might be a sigh of relief.
Make no mistake: he and everyone on that side of the ball knew how important having a good week was after the previous one, which started with the offense playing cringeworthy football and ended with the first-team unit staying off the field during last Thursday's preseason game.
And they all know how weird this "collaborative" approach on offense sounds, with Belichick, Matt Patricia, Joe Judge, and even position coaches (according to Jones) weighing on the proceedings every day.
The Patriots' offense put the pressure on themselves to step up against the Panthers, who were a top-five last year in total yards and passing yards allowed, and they delivered well enough to assuage some fears.
Still, it's easy to talk about how well the offense is "buying in" and progressing after one week. If the Patriots falter against the Los Vegas Raiders next week or struggle out of the gate against the Miami Dolphins (which honestly is very likely), that faith might get tested again.
Tuesday and Wednesday offered fleeting glimpses of what this new Patriots offense can be. That's all. But for that unit and outside observers of the team, maybe we should take the small victories for now after how tough the sledding has been through three weeks of camp. After all, these Sean McVayesque wrinkles they're adding to their offense take more on the order of weeks and months to perfect, not a few days.
Besides, with how solid the defense has looked this camp, perhaps we can push back the doomsday clock on the offense back a few seconds.
"We got better," Agholor said after Thursday. "But we still have some things to get better at. We're just trying to prepare so we can put something together for when it's time to go.
"[We're a] competitive group, and I think we're a poised group. Things don't always go your way, but as a group, what you do is keep your feet down and make plays."