Patriots Report Card: Mac Jones passes the accountability test

Patriots Report Card: Mac Jones passes the accountability test originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

FOXBORO, Mass. -- Mac Jones was hard on himself. He felt he let his team down. He felt he let his offensive line down. He felt he let his defense down.

He struck a downtrodden tone during his postgame press conference after losing to the Eagles on Sunday, 25-20.

"We fell behind because of me," he said, "and I put it on myself."

Later he added: "I feel like in the most critical times, I played my worst."

Those comments can be what quarterbacks bring themselves to say after games because they feel as though they have to say them. Comes with the gig.

Jones was so persistent with his self-criticism, though, it felt genuine. He has a history of wearing his heart on his sleeve on the field. It felt as though he was doing the same at the podium.

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His teammates were more positive when asked about Jones, however. Despite starting the game with just 14 yards and a pick-six in the first quarter, he finished with 316 yards and three touchdowns.

"I’ll just say this about Mac, man. I’ll go to battle with No. 10 any day of the week," tight end Hunter Henry said. "I love competing with that guy every single day, and I’ll go to war with him wherever it is, man. Conditions cold, rainy, beautiful day, a hot day, whatever it is. The dude’s a competitor, and it’s fun to go out there and play with a guy like that."

"I think as a quarterback that's kind of how they're going to come up here and talk to y'all, but we don't care about that," Matthew Judon said. "Mac went out there and played his butt off... Every opportunity that he had, he made them count."

It was far from a perfect performance from Jones, as our grades here will reflect, but it certainly wasn't all bad. When the offense found its rhythm, he was accurate down the field, he moved well in the pocket to buy himself time and space to throw, and he showed a willingness to stand in the pocket with pressure bearing down on him.

It was Week 1, in a new system, with one starting receiver out and three starting linemen playing their first snaps as Patriots. It wasn't supposed to look very good. But if they can get out of their own way, there were enough flashes of promise to generate optimism as the team progresses through 2023.

To the grades...

Quarterback: B-

Jones mentioned he thought he played his worst in the game's most critical moments, but there were two late throws that appeared to be on the money that didn't go down as catches because of mistakes made on the receiving end.

There was a third-and-12 strike to Kendrick Bourne -- on the money to a sliding target despite a huge hit -- that Bourne dropped. Jones' final throw of the game also was where it needed to be, but rookie Kayshon Boutte couldn't get his second foot down in bounds.

Both of those had the potential to be drive-extenders, and both helped Jones' grade here. Ditto for his accurate touchdown strikes to Bourne and Hunter Henry, as well as a tough throw to JuJu Smith-Schuster with defenders at his feet right before halftime.

His pick-six that was targeted for Bourne was a poor throw (though you could make the argument it still should've been caught), and he misfired on multiple screens -- one of which was nearly intercepted.

Not his best day. But not deserving of all the criticism he levied on himself.

Running Back: C+

Ezekiel Elliott made a beautiful one-handed grab on an inaccurate screen... and then promptly fumbled. Massive mistake deep in New England territory that led to a touchdown and a 16-0 deficit. He also only picked up 14 yards on five receptions. Not exactly efficient there.

The same could be said the the team's overall rushing attack. That was likely due more to what was happening on the offensive line, but Elliott and Stevenson combined for just 54 yards on 19 rushes (2.8 yards per carry). Elliott did pick up a gritty first down on a fullback dive play, and Stevenson was a factor as a receiver. He ended up with six catches for 64 yards, which included multiple yards-after-catch efforts.

Wide Receiver: B-

Tough to come up with a catch-all grade here for this unit. To the good? Bourne's route-running on both touchdown catches was excellent. His out-and-up almost put Eagles top corner Darius Slay in the new Bud Light Beer Hall at Gillette Stadium.

He looked like the team's most dynamic receiver with the ball in his hands. But he also let too many passes slip through his fingers. The toughest to swallow was on the pick six. Bad throw? Yes. One you'd rather not pop up in the air for an easy interception and return? Yes.

Boutte had two catches go for naught because he couldn't get his feet down. Demario Douglas had a drop. Smith-Schuster had a drop and wasn't on the field for the final drive.

Odd day for this unit. And on some of those late coulda-woulda-shoulda-had-'em kinds of plays -- specifically the third-and-12 to Bourne and the fourth-down attempt to Boutte -- it's worth wondering: If the team had one more supremely-talented receiver, do those plays get made? And do they change the outcome?

In my opinion, the answer to both of those is "yes."

Tight End: A-

Hunter Henry has been unlocked. Arguably the team's most under-utilized player in 2022, the newly-minted captain ended up with five catches for 56 yards and a touchdown. His route that led to the score was a sharp out-and-up, and the football from Jones was placed high to the back-end five yards of the end zone.

Mike Gesicki was used frequently but only targeted three times, catching all three for 36 yards. Bill O'Brien used his personnel at this position interestingly. There was plenty of 12 personnel. O'Brien went with Gesicki in sub situations as the only tight end at times -- there was one snap where you could argue the team had five wideouts on the field with Gesicki and Ty Montgomery aligning with three true receivers -- and there were other times when the Patriots had three tight ends on the field.

A penalty by Pharoah Brown (it was called on Henry by mistake, apparently), docked this grade a tad.

Offensive Line: C

We may be grading on a curve a bit here.

There was plenty of pressure on Mac Jones in this one. According to Next Gen Stats, rookie Jalen Carter had six all by himself. There were also two sacks that drove the Patriots back (one by Carter). And Atonio Mafi came up with an obvious holding penalty while out in space on a screen. The team also only averaged 3.5 yards per carry... and that includes two carries for 15 yards by Mac Jones on scrambles.

This wasn't the jailbreak kind of day it could've been, though. Jones had enough in the way of clean pockets to push the ball down the field occasionally. Not being able to run the football, however, made play-action passes a rarity and allowed Philly pass-rushers to pin their ears back and go find the quarterback.

Special Teams: B-

Three of Bryce Baringer's five punts pinned the Eagles inside their own 20. But one bounded into the end zone for a touchback. Another was returned 25 yards when a Baringer bomb appeared to out-fly its coverage.

Chad Ryland doesn't get docked for the Patriots not attempting a field goal on fourth-and-3 at the Eagles 17. Marcus Jones seemed to be living dangerously when he was immediately hit on a couple of punt returns as opposed to making fair catches. He did have a 21-yard tip-toe skip down the sideline that helped elevate this grade.

Defensive Line: B+

The Patriots allowed just 3.9 yards per rush against one of the best offensive lines in the league thanks in large part to this group.

Lawrence Guy was active with multiple run stuffs. Davon Godchaux played over 60 percent of the snaps and clogged running lanes for Philly's stable of backs after a strong start for their run game. On the edge, Keion White and Deatrich Wise did a solid job of keeping Jalen Hurts' legs in check (37 yards on nine attempts).

Then in the passing game, this unit was impactful. White notched multiple pressures to help force incompletions. Wise picked up a pair of penalties that docked this grade, but he was able to drive blockers backwards to bother Hurts at times as well. Combined with speed on the back end, the beef of this unit did its job.

Linebacker: A-

Ja'Whaun Bentley was the most frequently used off-ball linebacker in this one, and at times he was the only linebacker used. He played every snap (66), while Jahlani Tavai played almost half that number (37). Good job by both players in the running game, and finishing off hard-to-tackle runners when they had the opportunity. Bentley was especially effective against yards-after-contact standouts Hurts and Kenneth Gainwell.

On the edge, Matthew Judon was Matthew Judon. Key sack to limit the Eagles to a field goal early. Another quarterback hit later. Josh Uche notched a hit as well. They are part of a front that generated pressure on 41 percent of Hurts' dropbacks.

That number will be good enough for the Patriots to keep teams in the teens -- as the Patriots defense did to the Eagles offense -- on a weekly basis. They're deep and talented up front, and it allows Jerod Mayo and Steve Belichick to get creative on the back end.

Secondary: A-

It wasn't perfect from Christian Gonzalez in his first game as a rookie. But it was "damn good," as veteran Jabrill Peppers pointed out.

Gonzalez played every snap in a scheme that was about 50/50 in terms of man-to-man and zone looks. But he had to track A.J. Brown for chunks of this one and held one of the best and most physical receivers in football to under 80 yards. That's a job well done.

Add in seven tackles and the "silent assassin," as Adrian Phillips calls him -- "I think he said three words all game," Phillips told me after -- proved that he can hang with the bigger bodies of the pro game without issue.

Peppers had one of the plays of the game by forcing a Hurts fumble late. Marte Mapu checked in to play linebacker as well as safety and had excellent deep coverage (with Gonzalez) on one deep shot to Brown.

Kyle Dugger had a costly defensive holding penalty that hurts this grade a tad, but all in all it was the kind of performance this unit will take against an offense as talented as Philly's.