Patriots' issues with Mac Jones continue to grow in miserable performance vs. Cowboys

Mac Jones seemed like a good fit as Tom Brady's replacement with the New England Patriots. There was no realistic way in which Jones would have Brady's level of success, but it felt like Jones could be a competent quarterback.

It's Year 3 of Jones' career. And Jones seems to be getting worse.

Jones had a horrible game against the Dallas Cowboys with a large audience watching Sunday. His fumble was returned for a touchdown, he threw an ill-advised pass for an interception return touchdown in the final minute of the first half, and then threw a bad interception on fourth-and-2 to start the third quarter.

The Cowboys were up 28-3 on the Patriots at halftime. Fox said that was the largest halftime deficit of Bill Belichick's 29-year career as a head coach. The Patriots trailed 31-3 late in the third quarter when Jones was replaced with Bailey Zappe. The Cowboys went on to win 38-3. Jones finished 12-of-21 for 150 yards. Zappe didn't do much either, completing 4 of 9 passes for 57 yards.

After the game, Belichick said Jones wasn't benched for poor performance and he'd remain New England's starter.

It's just Week 4, but it's already time to wonder what comes next for Jones and the Patriots. He was a first-round draft pick who looked good as a rookie. He dealt with injuries and a bad offensive coaching staff in Year 2. His third season would say a lot about where his career was headed.

The early returns aren't good. On the fumble, Jones was trying to make something happen and never felt the defender closing in on him from behind. That turned a 10-3 game into an 18-3 deficit after the Cowboys ran a successful fake on a two-point conversion.

The interception at the end of the first half was worse. Jones threw all the way across the field, a miserable decision. Cornerback DaRon Bland had plenty of time to break on the pass and had an easy path to a pick 6.

Bland got another pick when Jones telegraphed his pass on fourth down early in the third quarter. The Cowboys were blowing out the Patriots by then, but New England's coaching staff couldn't have been happy with another bad turnover by Jones.

If the Patriots had any other appealing options, they probably would try them instead of Jones. The team let everyone know what they think of Zappe when they cut him at the end of preseason. Zappe was signed back, but it's not like the Patriots are enamored with him. Will Grier is on the roster too, but it's hard to buy him as the answer.

The Patriots are stuck. They aren't going to be bad enough to draft a Caleb Williams or Drake Maye in the 2024 draft. They already made a big investment on Jones in the first round a few years ago, but confidence in him has to be waning to say the least. It doesn't help that he spent the past week answering about being a dirty player, after he allegedly hit New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner below the belt, or that last season he had multiple blowups on the sideline.

Dallas Cowboys defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. (56) strips the ball away from New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) in the first half of Sunday's game. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

The Patriots haven't been very good the past few years but they rarely get embarrassed. They're a tough out, mostly because of Belichick. The roster isn't very good but Belichick gets the most out of it. Like practically all other coaches, he needs a quarterback to compete at the highest level.

Right now, the Patriots can't believe they have that quarterback.