Forget the Mac Jones interception conspiracy. Bill Belichick has bungled the Patriots' QB situation
If you’re looking to build some defense of Mac Jones, there is now an intriguing video snippet that isn’t New England Patriots coach/skipping jukebox Bill Belichick repeating “We’ll see how it goes today.”
Remember that pre-benching interception thrown by Jones in the Patriots’ 33-14 home loss to the Chicago Bears on Monday? Well, it might have changed trajectory as it crossed beyond a wire supporting ESPN’s hovering SkyCam on the "Monday Night Football" broadcast. A piece of slow-motion video has made the rounds that looks odd, with the spin of the ball appearing to take a slight bump as it crossed a wire before being intercepted by safety Jaquan Brisker.
ESPN says the interception by #Patriots’ Mac Jones against the #Bears did NOT hit the ESPN SkyCam wire. They say the wire was “15 feet above the ball”. Judge for yourself. Maybe it’s a misleading angle? Is there a trajectory change at the wire or is this just an optical illusion? pic.twitter.com/AcwKhPQYTy
— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) October 26, 2022
If the ball had touched the wire, the play should have been blown dead by an official, negating the turnover that seemed to send Jones to the bench in favor of rookie Bailey Zappe. ESPN denied its equipment had anything to do with the interception Wednesday, releasing a statement that the wire “was more than 15 feet above the ball” in the video in question.
Maybe it was an optical illusion. Perhaps a bad camera angle. It’s mostly an irrelevant sideshow when it comes to a sinking reality in New England. If the best defense of Jones is coming from a phantom equipment error rather than his head coach, the Patriots have a significant problem.
The simple truth is that this entire Jones situation has been — and continues to be — bungled by Belichick. He lost his two best savants when it came to offense when Tom Brady went out the door and then was followed two years later by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Now Belichick's attempt to replace both has the momentum and trajectory of a piano pushed out of a 10th-floor window.
What’s worse is that Belichick is making mistakes that seem remarkably amateurish for a coach who should understand how to proceed with an injured second-year quarterback. And for those who might wonder, that’s absolutely how some are looking at Jones inside the building. Not as a draft pick failure. Not as a formerly detail-oriented quarterback who suddenly can’t process a defense. And not as an inferior player to Zappe.
Instead, here's how some on the staff look at Jones.
He’s a second-year quarterback who just lost McDaniels, one of the most experienced play-calling offensive coordinators in the NFL. Now he’s adjusting to Matt Patricia, who had no experience calling an offense. He’s not nearly playing at full health, thanks to a high ankle sprain that more than likely should have kept him out of the game against the Bears. He’s not playing in an offense that’s built from a talent standpoint to compete with at least two teams in the division (the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins). And with one season of film available, defensive staffs understand more of his weaknesses and blind spots.
When you cook all of that down, what you get is a predictably difficult set of circumstances that are impacting the next phase of Jones' growth. It should be understandable, given the NFL is a league that thrives on continuity, roster talent and experience. If Jones' critics were realistic about rating those three columns on a scale of 1 to 10, New England’s scores would be middling at best.
But what can’t be accounted for now is what Belichick did to Jones on Monday, specifically failing to support him to the point of poisoning the fan base against him. And not just with this public waffling between Jones and Zappe, but also with the decision to put Jones onto the field against the Bears when Belichick, by his own admission, didn’t appear to believe Jones was healthy.
Consider the wave New England was riding into the Chicago game. Not only had Zappe won the previous two weeks, but he appeared to get better from one win to the next. The team had momentum. The pressure was off Jones to make a speedy recovery and get back into the lineup.
Yet rather than ride that wave, Belichick put Jones back into the starting lineup when he wasn’t fully healthy. And the result when he struggled was exactly the kind of fan discontent Belichick could have anticipated. Jones was booed and Zappe got an ovation when he entered the game. And when it was all over, the juggling of the two had failed miserably. All that was left was to question whether or not Belichick had benched Jones for injury or performance.
Belichick said it wasn’t for performance. And since then, it’s the overwhelmingly dominant storyline around New England.
So much of this is Belichick-inflicted, and it’s alarming. Aside from his running back depth, he has surrounded the quarterback position with the worst set of skill position pieces in the AFC East — and it’s not even close. When you zoom out even further, the Patriots’ skill position players (again, aside from running back), are arguably in the lower third of the AFC. That’s a significant problem and there’s nobody to blame for it but Belichick.
That might be the worst problem, if it weren’t for his atrocious handling of McDaniels’ departure. Looking back, it’s no wonder team owner Robert Kraft pulled out all the stops to lure McDaniels back into the fold after he’d already taken the Indianapolis Colts job in 2018. Maybe Kraft knew something the rest of us didn’t when it came to Belichick’s total lack of a plan. Because you can be sure Brady wouldn’t have put up with what is being piled onto Jones right now.
Belichick could have handled the coaching transition better. He also could have made better decisions as the team’s general manager. Most of all, he could have done a better job protecting a quarterback who is hurt and mismanaged.
Just one season ago, that same quarterback was a rookie Pro Bowler and a massive sigh of relief in New England. Now that sigh has turned into screams of anxiety. And Belichick has nobody to blame but himself.