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No doubt Mac Jones is the future, but this was a game the Patriots always used to win

Mac Jones stood tall against a tough Dolphins defense in his NFL debut.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Mac Jones, the Future of the Patriots, arrived at Gillette Stadium Sunday and played like a guy who someday may bring grid glory back to New England.

Making his NFL debut against the Miami Dolphins, Jones was just about everything Pats fans were hoping he would be. He demonstrated accuracy (29 for 39, 281 yards, no interceptions), pocket presence, and good decision-making. He took hits, and moved the football downfield. He put the Patriots in position to win.

But the Patriots lost, 17-16. In excruciating fashion.

Late in the game, Kid Jones looked like he was going to lead the Pats to one of those old-timey Brady comeback wins. The Patriots were storming toward the Miami goal line with just over three minutes left. They had a first and 10 from the Miami 11. And then running back Damien Harris fumbled.


Cam Newton wasn’t around to take the blame for this one.


It’s as if Tom took all the good karma with him.

Benjamin Button Brady is a Super Bowl champion in Tampa. He filled the air with footballs and surgically destroyed the Dallas Cowboys in Tampa’s opener victory Thursday. He continues to remind Bob Kraft and Bill Belichick of what things were once like around here — back in the days when the other team committed stupid penalties and turned over the ball in crucial moments.

The Patriots put the ball on the ground four times, losing two. New England committed eight penalties (three personal fouls) for 84 yards. The Pats had three drives of 14 plays, none of which resulted in touchdowns. They dominated time of possession (36:43 to 23:17) but lost the game. Maybe they miss Ernie Adams almost as much as Brady.

“There’s a lot of things that could have helped us,’’ deadpanned Belichick. “We just missed too many opportunities to win . . . not good enough. Got to take care of the football better.’’


Gillette Stadium was electric on a postcard-perfect September as fans watched the Patriots play a game that counted for the first time since Jan. 4, 2020: Brady’s final game in a Patriot uniform. The Pats honored fallen US Marine Sergeant Johanny Rosario Pichardo with a pregame moment of silence. There were tributes to David Patten and Sam Cunningham, former Patriots who died earlier this month.

All eyes were on Jones after Miami gashed the Pats defense to take a 7-0 lead. Jones came under tremendous pressure the first time he dropped back to pass and threw the ball behind him, into the ground. It was downright Cam-esque. It was ruled a fumble, but the Pats recovered.

Jones completed the first six passes of his NFL career, but there were a lot of stalled drives. In Jones’s first four series, the Pats punted twice, turned the ball over on a fumble by rookie running back Rhamondre Stevenson, and got a 27-yard field goal from Nick Folk.

Jones threw his first touchdown pass late in the first half to give the Pats a 10-7 lead. On second and goal from the 7, Jones spotted zone coverage, ran a play fake and found Nelson Agholor underneath for the touchdown strike.

Coming off the field, Agholor tried to hand Jones the football. Jones did not want the souvenir.

“That doesn’t really matter,’’ said Jones. “It was one touchdown. We’ve got to score more. We’ve got to do better in the red zone and we will.’’


New England’s defense made a huge play with eight minutes left. With Matt Judon applying tremendous pressure, Miami QB Tua Tagovailoa made a desperate heave downfield. The ball rattled off the hands of a pair of Dolphins, then was secured by Patriot cornerback Jonathan Jones.

That’s when Jones took over and drove the Pats to the 11. Then came the fumble.

“I’m not going to let this mistake define me,’’ said Harris, who gained 100 yards on the day. “I’m ready to move on. I hold myself accountable.’’

Big points there. A stand-up guy. Bodes well for the Patriots future.

Fair or unfair, Belichick’s legacy is on the line. He’s been coaching in the NFL for 47 years. He’s won six Super Bowls as head coach of the Patriots. He has 311 wins (including playoffs) and could pass Don Shula (347) for No. 1 on the all-time list. But with a lot of casual fans and Patriot haters, Belichick’s got to prove he can win a Super Bowl without Brady.

Folks who saw Jones win the NCAA championship at Alabama said the kid is “NFL ready.” Nothing we saw Sunday discouraged that notion.

Belichick appears to have found a new quarterback. There’s never going to be another Tom Brady, but Jones looks like a kid who can win in the NFL. And next week the Patriots play the Jets.


Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @dan_shaughnessy.