Round One of the Mac vs. Zach duel went to Mac Jones.
In a rout.
The contrast between the two rookie quarterbacks was striking during the Patriots 25-6 win over the Jets at MetLife Stadium.
Jones was efficient, effective, mistake-free, taking what the defense gave him.
Wilson, meanwhile, was a mess, constantly throwing into coverage, turning the ball over at every turn.
It was easy to see how much further Jones is ahead of the curve when it comes to being an NFL quarterback than his New York counterpart, who was also a first-round pick in the 2021 draft.
The Patriots starter, who finished 22-for-30 for 186 yards, also added a few more wrinkles to his repertoire in notching his first NFL win.
Jones offered a bigger glimpse into his toughness and willingness as a competitor, dashing down the field to help push the pile to get Damien Harris in the end zone on the back’s 26-yard third-quarter touchdown run, giving the Patriots a 19-3 lead.
He also helped spring Kendrick Bourne on an end-around that gained 16 yards in the third, making the lead block to chop down a would-be tackler.
The new book on Jones?
He’s not afraid to do whatever it takes to win.
It’s a great quality for a quarterback, although it might be wise for Jones to keep himself out of harm’s way. As it is, he had to do enough scampering to try and avoid the Jets pass rush.
“He’s locked in, does whatever he has to do to help the team move the football, score touchdowns, he’s going to do whatever it takes,” said offensive captain James White. “We’d preferably like to not have him down there with Damien in the pile, but he’s excited to be out there and do whatever he can to help the team.”
Harris agreed that while it was nice to get a shove, Jones has to think about his safety above all.
“I appreciate it, but I hope he never does it again,” said Harris. “We need him.”
Indeed, they do.
Jones chalked up his blocking efforts to just “doing his job.” He said watching members of the offensive line run down the field for Harris, he felt like he could help, too.
“We wanted to score. And everyone was down there pushing,” said Jones. “My job is to make sure nothing bad happens, and try to be by the ball … maybe I should have stayed back.”
Jones chuckled after delivering the last line. He knew making that kind of push comes with risk.
And yet, it was another impressive look for the young quarterback, who continues to do things to gain the respect of his teammates.
But, like the first week, it wasn’t all perfect.
Being flagged for an intentional grounding, potentially taking the Patriots out of field goal range before the half, wasn’t one of Jones’ finer moments.
Jones & Co. also didn’t do the best job converting Wilson’s four turnovers into touchdowns. Like the Week 1 loss to Miami, they largely settled for field goals. That’s not going to cut it as the season progresses.
Jones was happy to get his first win, but realizes there is plenty more work to be done.
“You’ve got to take it for what it’s worth. We’ll get better,” said Jones. “I think everybody who watched the game would agree the offense can play better. And, we will.”
Josh McDaniels was a little more creative with his play-calling, even using a gadget play to move the sticks.
That had Jones handing off to White, who in turn threw back to Jones, who delivered a 19-yard completion to Jonnu Smith.
Jones once again didn’t throw the ball downfield much, but some of that was due to simply not having time.
Protection issues continue with the offensive line, specifically at right tackle. Jones isn’t going to survive if that doesn’t get cleaned up.
Yasir Durant was benched in favor of Justin Herron after allowing three sacks before halftime.
But even with a lack of protection, particularly in the first half, Jones still felt he could have done more.
“I think for the receivers, they played well,” said Jones. “I need to get them the ball more, and I will. So, we’ll get the ball out and let them make plays, because we have good skill players. We have a really good offensive line, but I thought the Jets obviously had a good defensive line as well, so that plays into it.”
Jones hit seven different targets during the game, led by James White’s 6 catches for 45 yards. With the Jets playing a Cover-3 zone, White figured to have a big day.
Smith and Hunter Henry combined on 6 catches for 70 yards. Jakobi Meyers (4 catches, 38 yards) and Nelson Agholor (3 catches, 21 yards) also pitched in.
Why no deep shots?
“It was me. I can push the ball down the field more,” said Jones. “They did what we expected them to do and stuff. Obviously, they have a good defensive line … I can definitely hold the ball in a good way, maybe move and try and make a better throw down the field on a lot of plays.”
It was also interesting to watch Jones, following the game, meet up with Wilson, and console his counterpart, saying the Patriots defense is tough, and he also struggles against them in practice.
“I think Zach’s a really good player. And as a rookie quarterback, this is what I told him after game, we have to just continue to get better. It’s part of the game,” said Jones. “He’s going to continue to grow, just like I will, too.”