Patriots' offense sputters in season opener — and now Mac Jones has a back injury

The caveat to every Week 1 story is always that it's early. Things can and do change in the NFL. A year ago at this time the Green Bay Packers were embarrassed by the New Orleans Saints and the Buffalo Bills lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and by the end of the season the Packers and Bills firmly righted the ship.

Now that that's out the way, it has to be said: Playing against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday afternoon, the New England Patriots' offense looked as bad as everyone thought it might throughout the spring and training camp, when there were multiple days when the group was reported to have been a hot mess.

There was no switch flipped Sunday, no magic elixir consumed for opening day that made all of those problems a thing of the past.

The Patriots struggled. And after they did, quarterback Mac Jones didn't meet with media as the team announced he'd suffered a back injury, though X-rays were negative.

The problems are beginning early. They did Sunday, too.

After gaining 53 yards on their first seven plays, the Patriots were just outside the red zone when Jones floated a jump ball for DeVante Parker in the right third of the end zone, but the ball was tipped by Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard and intercepted by teammate Jevon Holland.

Mac Jones (10) and the Patriots' offense slogged through a loss to the Dolphins on Sunday that looked disturbingly familiar to their preseason struggles. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Mac Jones (10) and the Patriots' offense slogged through a loss to the Dolphins on Sunday that looked disturbingly familiar to their preseason struggles. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

It looked like there was a missed defensive pass interference call on the play, but Parker one-on-one with Howard was a gamble from the start.

On the Patriots' second possession, they had three negative yardage plays. Rhamondre Stevenson was dropped for a 3-yard loss on a quick screen; there was a complete coverage breakdown on first down from the Dolphins' 40 and Emmanuel Ogbah got to Jones untouched, dropping him for a 7-yard sack; and on the following play Ty Montgomery lost 2 yards on a carry.

The third drive was over almost as soon as it started, with Jones strip-sacked on second down from the New England 15. Safety Brandon Jones blitzed from the defensive right and drilled the Patriots' quarterback in the back, jarring the ball loose. Melvin Ingram picked it up off one bounce and was in the end zone in two strides.

All of it meant New England had 24 yards of offense in the second quarter and 108 in the first half. Miami was up 17-0 at the half.

The biggest storyline of the offseason with the Patriots' offense was who exactly is in charge of it. Bill Belichick does not have a named offensive coordinator after longtime coordinator Josh McDaniels was hired as Raiders head coach.

Joe Judge, a career special teams coach who was fired in January as Giants head coach, is back with New England and is quarterbacks coach, while Matt Patricia, who has spent the bulk of his career as a defensive coach, is offensive line coach and "senior football adviser."

Patricia called plays during the game, but when Jones was on the sideline, he had at least four people in his ear: Patricia, Judge, running backs coach Vinnie Sunseri and backup quarterback Brian Hoyer. That seems less than ideal.

To make matters worse for the Patriots, the Dolphins didn't exactly look like a juggernaut. After weeks of hearing from Tyreek Hill and rookie head coach Mike McDaniel that third-year QB Tua Tagovailoa is on the precipice of greatness, Tagovailoa made some questionable throws. The Patriots' defense also had its moments, particularly in pressuring Tagovailoa, and finished the game with three sacks and seven pressures.

The game was as close as it was with just under 10 minutes to play thanks in large part to the defense, so much so that the offense went for it on fourth-and-3 from midfield. On that play, Jones had time — so much time that he was directing traffic downfield — and still when he threw it up for Hunter Henry the tight end didn't catch it.

McDaniel can now say he did what his five predecessors could not: win his debut as Miami's head coach. He became the first Dolphins head coach since Nick Saban in 2005 to win his first game in the role.

The Patriots now await the long-term prognosis of Jones. They'd better hope it's encouraging. They seem to have enough issues on offense already.