Browns Patriots Football

New England quarterback Mac Jones threw two touchdown passes and has a career day for passing yards in a win over Tennessee, and also has a lofty quarterback rating of 123.2, yet some analysts still say it was his worst start of the season. Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson don’t get the Mac Jones treatment. Neither does Justin Fields.

The starting point on critiques of their play is that they’re rookies. And, they play on crummy teams with little to no supporting cast.

Jones? He no longer gets a pass. He gets assessed and nitpicked as if he was a veteran.

He throws two touchdown passes, has a career day for passing yards, sports a lofty quarterback rating of 123.2, and finds some analysts saying it was his worst start of the season.

The latter commentary wasn’t necessarily ill-conceived or meant as click bait. It was based on Jones not having his usual impeccable accuracy, missing a wide-open Hunter Henry for a touchdown, and being lucky to avoid having a few of his passes picked off. All true.

And yet, he didn’t have any turnovers, put the ball in places where his receivers could gain yards after the catch and backboned what turned into a blowout of the Tennessee Titans in a critical AFC matchup.

So why make a federal case out of a few missed passes?

Because Jones keeps raising the bar. Being the quarterback of an 8-4 team, showing he can handle the competition from week to week, and not flinching with Tom Brady on the opposing sideline has changed the narrative.

The standard for Jones is now much different, and much higher than the other quarterbacks taken in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft.

And with that, expectations have grown.

That’s why critics are looking beyond his super stat lines. That’s why every detail of his performance gets analyzed. His play has merited the scrutiny. Jones has become that important to the Patriots, and their chances down the road.

This is a good thing. Not a disaster. This is more of a compliment to Jones, and how well he’s being handled by Josh McDaniels, and how quickly he’s adapted to the pro game. He gets criticized for throwing near-picks, as opposed to actual interceptions. He hears about his touch being off, given how accurate he’s been.

Again, this should be viewed as more of a positive instead of a negative. It’s more of an endorsement of how well he’s performed, heading into the most important game of the season against Buffalo on Monday night.

Nitpicking is a form of flattery.

It might even fuel Jones, although he’s easily his own worst critic. He’s a perfectionist, and then some. So most of his motivation comes from within.

“He’s a guy that wants to do everything the best that he can, so if we, for some reason, didn’t have great success in a series, then he’s got an urgency about him and a desire to do it better,” McDaniels said during a video call Tuesday.

The Patriots offensive coordinator loves that trait in Jones, and thus far, none of the problems or issues he’s experienced in games aren’t correctable or overwhelming for his rookie.

This isn’t Wilson throwing four picks against the Patriots and looking completely out of sorts. This is a couple of missed connections in a sea of good throws and sound decision-making.

“Like most of the games this year – good and bad – the bad’s not too bad, and that’s what we want to try to minimize,” said McDaniels. “And we’ll just try to use those opportunities to learn and grow and get better, and he’s had a great attitude and approach about that.”

Bills Coach Sean McDermott has been impressed, and it didn’t sound completely like the pump-up jobs many coaches give an opponent. He also patted McDaniels on the back for how well he’s developed Jones, saying the rookie was already “at an elite level.”

“I think Mac is off to a phenomenal start. He’s as good as advertised,” McDermott said during a Tuesday video call. “There’s a lot of talk out there about him. He does a great job executing their offense, so it’ll be a big challenge for us.”

McDermott’s words were actually mild compared with some assessments. While there’s been nitpicking, there’s also been a lot of overhyping of the rookie. He’s been called the second coming of you know who, which is both unfair, and unjust. Jones has some of Tom Brady’s traits, for sure, but that doesn’t make him No. 12, or remotely close to being the GOAT.

At this stage, he also shouldn’t be considered one of the elite quarterbacks in the league, another over-inflated view that’s been going around. Right now, heading into Week 13, Jones is somewhere in the middle of the pack. There’s no crime in that. It’s perfectly fine and exceeds the usual expectations for a rookie first-round pick playing a dozen games in the pros.

There’s still plenty of room for him to grow and further develop. There are still plenty of things to discover about him as a quarterback, with the much-anticipated Monday Night Football matchup in Buffalo the latest test for him to pass.

So far, the discoveries have been good. That’s why he’s being graded a little more harshly.

And, as defensive captain Devin McCourty put it Wednesday, Jones has reached the point where he’s advanced so much, there’s nothing more the defensive captain needs to tell the kid to prepare for such a huge game.

“The bigger the games get, there’s no need for guy’s like me being in his ear telling him anything extra. He’ll be fine,” said McCourty. “He’s our guy now. We trust that, and he’ll go out there and do what he needs to do.”


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