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FOXBORO — The game-time temperature on Sunday at Gillette Stadium was 37 degrees. With the wind chill, it dropped to 32. Before you knew it, snow flurries were falling from the sky.
Growing up in Jacksonville and attending college in Alabama, Jones played all of his collegiate away games in warm-climate stadiums. Heading into this game against the Tennessee Titans, people wondered how cold weather might affect him.
Patriots 36, Titans 13: Patriots work together to blow out top-seeded Titans
Jones dismissed that notion last week. After all, he’s been practicing in New England all season and, by this time of year, it’s cold outside. Of course, practicing in a red non-contact jersey is completely different from playing against one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL. Nevertheless, as this season goes on, we continue to learn plenty about the Patriots' QB.
One truth is unfortunate for the rest of the NFL and anyone out there who dislikes the Patriots: Mac Jones is good — really good. He looks so good that there are a handful of other NFL teams that should be upset that they failed to draft him.
During Sunday's 36-13 blowout win, Jones showed that neither cold weather nor the Titans' vaunted defense could stop him. Jones finished with a career-high 310 passing yards and two touchdowns. In a game in which the offense needed to lean more on the rookie’s arm, the Patriots should come out of this game once again thanking the NFL gods that Jones fell to them in this year's NFL Draft.
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Now on a six-game win streak with a crucial matchup with the Buffalo Bills on deck, the Patriots are rolling and Jones looks like one of the favorites for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
“Mac’s playing very well," said Patriots pass rusher Matthew Judon. "Mac’s confidence in himself is growing. He already had a lot of confidence, I think, but his confidence is growing in himself. That’s the biggest thing. We just have to be there to rough him up a little bit, but also pull him along.
“If he’s not playing well, let him know defense has his back. Then, when he’s playing well, let him know the defense still has his back and 'we’re going to get you the ball. We’re going to get you the ball right back. You’re playing amazing.’ … He’s balling.”
What Mac Jones detractors might say
If you were to engage with someone who is critical of Jones, there are two points they would bring up:
No. 1: Jones throws only short, safe throws.
No. 2: Jones looks better than other rookie quarterbacks because he’s on the Patriots.
The first point seemed valid to start the season. In the first four weeks, Jones' yards per attempt weren't overwhelmingly impressive. He ranged from 5.29 yards per throw to 7.2. In three games in a row, Weeks 2-4, he averaged fewer than 7 yards per pass.
The problem with that argument is that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' play calls to start this season were designed to protect and help a rookie quarterback. The issue is that that opinion is only valid if you don’t actually watch Jones play. Sure, Jones was throwing shorter throws to start the season but that hasn’t been the case since Week 5.
Jones has averaged more than 7.7 yards per attempt in eight of the last nine games. On Sunday, he averaged 9.7 yards per attempt.
This win over the Titans showed the NFL that the Patriots can move the ball downfield when their run game isn’t on point. Now, detractors would argue that the fact that the Patriots relied on five field goals shows that the offense wasn’t efficient.
Sure, the offense wasn’t perfect and Jones even missed some throws. Even when the Pats couldn’t run, however, Jones was very efficient. In the second drive, he completed gains of 22, 20, 16 and 13 yards to set up a field goal. In the next series, he hit receiver Jakobi Meyers for 38 yards to set up another field goal. Add in his 4-yard touchdown to Kendrick Bourne and the 41-yard touchdown reception to Bourne (for which we’ll give the receiver most of the credit) and Jones had an impressive day.
Patriots are a better landing spot for a rookie quarterback
The second point against Jones is actually fair. Did anyone expect Zach Wilson to light it up with the New York Jets? The same team that hasn’t been able to develop a young quarterback since Chad Pennington? That situation is a mess. How about in Jacksonville? Trevor Lawrence might have more natural ability than Jones but the Jaguars are a disaster and the same can be said about head coach Urban Meyer. In Chicago, Justin Fields is hurt. In San Francisco, Trey Lance is sitting behind Jimmy Garoppolo.
Sure, the Patriots are a better landing spot for a rookie quarterback — they have a great defense, offensive line and run game. Jones, however, is not just any rookie quarterback.
As perfect as the Pats may be for Jones, this young gunslinger is also a perfect match for Belichick and McDaniels. He’s an accurate thrower. He’s poised. He makes good decisions. He works hard. He’s accountable. He gives nothing away to the media.
On top of that, not even the cold weather can stop him.
“Coach Belichick always tells us to get what you need on and be prepared and then don't complain about it because it is what it is,” Jones said. “It's just a mindset. Obviously, it will get worse and we'll continue to figure it out and work through it.”
It’s hard to argue with him. Through 12 games, Jones has completed 70.3% of his passes for 2,850 yards to go with 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions. To put those numbers in perspective, no rookie quarterback has had a better completion percentage than Jones at this point in NFL history. Through 12 weeks, his 2,850 passing yards are the fourth-most for a rookie in NFL history, according to Stathead.
Some truths are hard to deal with. This one in New England looks like it’ll have consequences throughout the NFL for years to come.
The Patriots have a gem in Mac Jones.
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: The NFL messed up by letting the Patriots draft Mac Jones