Mac Jones' debut performance dwarfs importance of Patriots season-opening loss originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
Do you know how relevant Damien Harris’ fumble and this loss to the Dolphins will be by the end of the season? About as relevant as Mac Jones’ first quarter spin-o-rama spike/fumble was by the end of Sunday’s game.
Sucked in the moment. Caused a wave of concern. But in the end, a pimple on an elephant’s behind.
The Patriots lost the 2021 home opener to the Dolphins by a point. Division loss. Fumbles all over the joint. Excessive penalties. Who ... cares?
If you’re going to get hung up on that and whistle past the fact the Patriots -- by fate or design -- own the services of the perfect quarterback for their organization, then you are the kind of person who would whine about the taxes you’d have to pay on a $10 million scratchie.
Do you think Mary and Joseph caused a stink at the front desk of the Bethlehem Inn on December 26 because the straw was too coarse? Or did they go big picture?
And that’s what you need to do here. Big picture. I get it. Everyone’s supposed to engage in the requisite gnashing of teeth over a loss. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret. You’re. Not. On. The. Team.
You are a football consumer. And the product you are going to consume because the Patriots got it right with Mac Jones is going to be satisfying far sooner than I ever thought it would be when Tom Brady said, “Aight. Imma head out.”
A rookie quarterback went 29 for 39 for 281 and a touchdown in his first start against a defense that threw everything at him. A defense that has two of the league’s better young corners -- Xavien Howard and Byron Jones -- and two very capable veterans -- Jason McCourty and Eric Rowe -- who also happen to be former Patriots and kinda know the New England offense pretty well.
Jones completed eight passes to imported tight ends Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. Patriots tight ends caught 18 passes last year. They had 37 in 2019 with Brady here.
James White caught six passes from Jones for 49 yards. He caught 42 passes from Cam Newton last year in 13 games. Nelson Agholor, who scuffled through the latter part of training camp, caught five passes for 72 yards and the lone Patriots touchdown.
The Patriots went 11 of 16 on third down (69 percent conversion rate). They had three games last season when they converted more than half of their third downs. Their best was 7 for 12 in the second game of the season against Seattle.
The gaffes that cost the Patriots a win? Honestly, do you think New England’s going to go from annually being the least-penalized team in the league to having week after week with numbers like Sunday (eight accepted penalties for 84 yards)? Do you think that the utterly professional and obviously heartsick Damien Harris is going to put the ball on the ground regularly because one squirted out on September 12? I mean, he could. But, in my experience, the Patriots are a team that historically has very few games in which they beat themselves. And that’s what they did Sunday. Which, again, is less than ideal. But it’s far from being a cause for alarm.
Rudderless play in the secondary. An obvious lack of knowing who to pick up on blitzes. Disinterested or overmatched play in the front seven. A simple lack of talent. Now those would all be causes for concern. But none of those were an issue in the opener.
What is a cause for concern? The physical hammering Jones took is a good place to start. A lot of that was the cost of doing business. Some of the biggest hits he took came when he stood in, knowing he was going to get sawed in half, and still delivered strikes without flinching. The touchdown pass to Agholor was one example. But Jones is not a burly man. We’ve been over this. And even though he took just one sack (that on the aforementioned first attempt of the day where he completely short-circuited), the pounding was substantial and there are 16 more games of that for him. Hope he’s pliable.
What else? The ease with which Miami scored to open both the game and on their first possession of the second half. The Dolphins put together a solid game plan on both sides of the ball and Tua Tagovailoa threw it better than expected. Since the Patriots’ 43-0 win in Miami in Antonio Brown’s lone game as a Patriot in Week 2 of 2019, Brian Flores is 3-1 against his former employers.
Post-Brady, the Patriots are now 7-10. Which would also be cause for concern if, well, you didn’t notice that they found their person to play the most important position in sports. And they have.