FOXBORO — You have the six Super Bowl banners hanging inside Gillette Stadium. You have Bill Belichick on the sideline, but that’s not all. There are also the expectations.
You want to feel pressure? Just look at Mac Jones.
He’s the first quarterback drafted in the first round ever for Belichick. He represents the Patriots best hopes to right their franchise after Tom Brady left. His draft status elicits expectations that few players before him could handle. Realistically, rookie quarterbacks are below-average players. No one would have been shocked to see Jones struggle during his first NFL season. That’s normal for first-year quarterbacks.
Drafted 15th overall, Jones was the fifth quarterback taken in the 2021 NFL Draft. He came to a team coming off a disappointing 7-9 season with a loaded free-agent class and the best head coach of all time. This season hasn’t been perfect for Jones, but when you put what he’s done in historical context, it’s been an amazing ride.
In what was likely his last game of the season in Gillette Stadium, Jones put together another fantastic performance on Sunday in the Patriots' 50-10 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jones finished with 227 passing yards with three touchdowns while outplaying the NFL's No. 1 overall pick, Trevor Lawrence. Jones beat his hometown team and helped the Patriots secure a playoff spot for the first time in two seasons.
Sunday's game was another reminder that the Patriots franchise is in good hands. With one regular-season game left, Jones will add to what’s been one of the best seasons for a rookie quarterback in NFL history.
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Mac Jones is a winner
It’s easy to lose when you’re a rookie quarterback. Most young players are drafted to teams coming off poor seasons with little hope of the playoffs. That’s why a rookie quarterback has never started a Super Bowl, never mind won one.
By clinching a playoff spot on Sunday, Jones becomes one of the winningest rookie quarterbacks in NFL history.
According to Pro Football Focus, there have been 23 first-year quarterbacks who have started a playoff game since 1950. When you take away injury replacements, 14 rookies have led their teams to the postseason in their first year. We've seen six in the last 10 years: Lamar Jackson (2018), Dak Prescott (2016), Russell Wilson (2012), Andrew Luck (2012), Robert Griffin III and Andy Dalton (2011).
Jones will join an exclusive group when he starts in the postseason this year. By winning his 10th game on Sunday, the rookie joined rare company. The NFL has seen 98 rookie quarterbacks start at least 10 games. Prior to Jones, only eight (8.16%) won 10 or more of those contests.
On Sunday, Jones became the 12th rookie quarterback to lead his team to a winning record and the eighth to win 10 or more games in his first season. He joins Ben Roethlisberger (13-0), Prescott (13-3), Luck (11-5), Matt Ryan (11-5), Wilson (11-5), Joe Flacco (11-5) and Kyle Orton (10-5).
Statistically, Jones is near the top
Jones hasn’t been perfect this season and there was at least one anomaly (he threw just three passes in gale-force winds in Buffalo), but after 16 games, Jones is one of the most productive rookie quarterbacks of all time.
On Sunday, Jones became the 15th rookie quarterback in NFL history to reach 3,000 passing yards and 20 touchdowns.
Jones' 3,540 passing yards are the 11th most by a first-year player in NFL history. Most of the names in front of him are impressive: Luck, Justin Herbert, Cam Newton, Jameis Winston, Carson Wentz, Peyton Manning, Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, Prescott and Jim Kelly.
With 21 touchdown passes, Jones is tied for 11th all-time among first-year quarterbacks. His 332 completions are the seventh most in NFL history behind Herbert, Wentz, Sam Bradford, Murray, Derek Carr and Luck. His 92.5 quarterback rating is 10th best.
Jones is one of the most accurate rookie quarterbacks of all time. On Sunday, he tied Prescott’s rookie record of nine games completing at least 70% of his passes. His overall 67.6% completion percentage is the second-best all-time behind Prescott's record of 67.8%.
Jones has passed his peer reviews
Jones has turned into a favorite in the Patriots locker room. He caught teammates by surprise with his swagger this summer and acted like a true professional en route to beating out Newton for the Patriots starting job.
Jones has had his struggles. He came into Sunday's contest after passing for 145 yards with two interceptions in a loss to Buffalo, but impressed his teammates and coaches with his work ethic and attitude amid the highs and lows of an NFL season.
“I love playing with Mac and playing for Mac,” Kristian Wilkerson said. “He’s a leader, takes command. It’s great.”
“He shows up every day ready to work. Ready to do his job,” added Damien Harris.
“I’m just happy he’s our quarterback. He’s out there balling, having a hell of a season,” said Matthew Judon. “I’m just happy he’s out there playing with us.”
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Jones has even done the improbable — earning heaps of praise from his head coach.
On Sunday, the rookie quarterback was near perfect. Although Jacksonville came into the game with 17 players on the Reserve/COVID list, Belichick was thrilled to see his quarterback respond with poise following a disappointing loss to the Bills.
“Mac is super consistent. Every day is really the same day for Mac. He’s always well prepared. He’s in early. He’s ready to go,” Belichick said. “He’s just worked hard to get better every day. A lot of consistency and great work ethic and [he] really pays attention to details and has just improved in every area throughout the course of the year. Continues to improve on a daily basis.
“He’s just a really great person to coach because he’s so responsive to trying to do everything the way that you want to do it. Josh [McDaniels] has done a fantastic job with him, and Mac has really embraced the wisdom that Josh has transmitted to him, and he played extremely well today.”
The Patriots are back in the playoffs. Welcome to the Mac Jones era.
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: NE Patriots Mac Jones is one of the best rookie QBs in NFL history