Mac Jones is officially broken, and so are the Patriots

Mac Jones is officially broken, and so are the Patriots originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

There’s no ducking it now. A full-system reboot is coming for the New England Patriots once this disastrous and kinda sad season ends.

Sunday sealed it. If Mac Jones throws another pass for this team, it’s not because the Patriots want him to. It’s because they’re out of options.

Which is exactly where Robert Kraft finds himself on Monday morning with the bye week coming. Out of options.

A few hours before Jones threw the pick that caused nations on both sides of the Atlantic to ask, “What the f--- was that???” Kraft said this:

“This is our thirtieth year that I’ve had the privilege of owning this team, and I’ve never been 2-7. So it’s really disappointing and I hoped that things would be a lot better, as I know our fan base did. And I hope today is a chance to reset and make this a much better year. This isn’t what we were expecting to happen this year.”

Narrator: “But it. Was not. To be.”

I sensed a tone of resignation in the Patriots' postgame press conferences. It sounded like they’d given up the ghost.

It is what it is. We are what we are. There will be no turnaround. We’re not going anywhere, but lots of people will be going somewhere when the season ends.

The Patriots are seven games from the finish. After the bye they’ll play the Giants, one of the few teams that have been as bad as New England. With both teams currently at 2-8 and “battling” for the second overall pick, there’s future incentive to turn the game into a punt-off.

And while I just said sitting Jones is a must, there is an argument to be made for playing him if the first overall pick is what the Patriots are after.

Swear to God, the only way you can explain the interception Jones threw Sunday is that he went rogue on a personal tanking mission. It was that bad. It wasn’t just the capstone moment on a horrible second half and an equally horrible season. It put the sad emoji punctuation mark on Jones’ free-fall from July of 2022 when Belichick showered Jones with praise and optimism.

"I think Mac has done a great job," Belichick said at the start of training camp in 2022. "He's worked extremely hard. He's got a tremendous work ethic in all areas. I think there's a dramatic improvement. His physical work and conditioning, working on his mechanics, working on his footwork, working on his understanding of our offense, of opponents' defenses, the situations -- all those things.

"He's made tremendous strides. He did a great job last year, but he's starting from a much, much higher point this year than where he started last year. So, his offseason work has been significant, and I think everyone recognizes how well he prepares and how much further along he was than he was a year ago."

How does a player go from being the runner-up for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (after being the front-runner for most of the season) to performing like the worst starter in the league?

It took a village to make Mac unusable before Thanksgiving 2023. We don’t need to go chapter-and-verse, but the bottom line is the team is not well-coached on offense or special teams. They don’t have any “high-end” talent. Jones frequently doesn’t know whether to poop or go blind and doesn’t have physical skills (foot speed, elusiveness, arm talent) to extract himself from bad situations, so he makes them worse.

The depth all over the offense is non-existent. In too many spots, the front-line players are replacement-level. This, two seasons after spending a record amount in free agency.

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Meanwhile, the rest of the quarterback room is devoid of anyone the rest of the league wants.

Sunday’s game was a microcosm of Jones’ decline. In the first half, the protection was horrendous and he was sacked five times after having been sacked just 16 times in the nine games preceding. So by the second half, he didn’t know what he was looking at.

The Patriots' first drive after the half ended when Jones was in shotgun on third-and-3 from the Colts 17. The Patriots ran the ball six times to get there. Yet Jones failed to pull the trigger on an easy throw to Demario Douglas crossing at the linebacker level.

Was he concerned he was going to get Douglas blown up by the linebacker just in front? Did he just not see him? Either way, by the time Douglas cleared the linebacker, protection was breaking down and Jones was scuttling. Then he underhanded a throw in the general direction of Rhamondre Stevenson that could have easily been picked off.

Jones threw twice on the first 13 plays of the Patriots' next possession. Then on third-and-goal from the Colts’ 5, he threw two feet over Hunter Henry’s head in the end zone. That was nearly picked.

Still, when the Patriots got the ball back trailing 10-6 with 8:54 remaining, the reins were taken off a bit. Jones threw three times in eight plays and the Patriots had second-and-12 from the Indy 15.

Mike Gesicki broke open in the end zone. The only place Jones COULDN’T miss was short. And he underthrew Gesicki by 20 feet. Picked.

“It was a terrible throw,” Jones admitted. “Practiced it, hit it in practice, snugged the throw, and I knew where to go. I just didn't do it. Didn't do it right.”

Asked if there was “something mechanical”, Jones said, “Yeah. There were some things I was working through, but it doesn't matter. No excuses.”

Whether the “things (he) was working through” was tied to Jones going for postgame X-rays and perhaps somewhat explains him missing an easy lob to the end zone doesn’t really matter. Not with the litany of picks he’s thrown in other high-leverage moments this season.

The good throws he’s made? The drops by receivers on balls Jones put on their hands? The heroics less than a month ago against the Bills? None of it matters. His goose in New England is most likely cooked and he’ll probably only be here until the next option reveals itself, whether that be in the draft or free agency.

The Patriots are heading to their second rebuild in four seasons.

In 2020, Belichick explained that the “residual” from the team’s spending in the 2010s led to his Patriots spending that season getting right with the cap.

“We’re playing more young players than we’ve played in the past,” he said on SiriusXM NFL Radio in a conversation with Charlie Weis. "A combination of reasons. We were pretty heavily invested in our team in the past few years. From a salary cap standpoint, we didn’t have much flexibility at all. I think that was obvious on the Cam Newton contract.

"… Again, because of our cap situation — in this particular year, this is kind of the year that we’ve taken to, I would say, adjust our cap from the spending that we’ve had in accumulation of prior years. We just haven’t been able to have the kind of depth on our roster that we’ve had in some other years. That’s provided more opportunity for younger players. So, it’s a combination of all the reasons.”

In the spring of 2021, the Patriots got a suitable first-round quarterback. They spent wildly in free agency. The team went 10-7 and Belichick was named Executive of the Year.

And less than two years since, the whole thing’s gone to hell. The team is worse now than it was in 2020.

It’s worse now than when Belichick took over in 2000. At least then, they had a strong-armed, well-regarded quarterback in Drew Bledsoe and a core of very talented players -- Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Tedy Bruschi, Ted Johnson, Willie McGinest, Kevin Faulk, Damien Woody, Terry Glenn, Troy Brown and a fourth-string quarterback named Tom Brady -- to move forward with despite the cap hell they were in.

They also had a coaching staff brimming with talent and a personnel man in Scott Pioli who found player after player for Belichick to deploy and -- stunningly -- win titles with.

Now, the Patriots have cap space and are headed for a top-five pick. And they need everything everywhere.

Nobody could have ever expected it would get THIS bad.