The first nine games of Mac Jones’s NFL career certainly haven’t been perfect. He suffered a couple of bad losses early in the season, threw a few interceptions, and went through the type of growing pains that are common with rookie quarterbacks.
But as the 5-4 Patriots hit the second half of their 17-game season, Jones’s midseason report card is filled with high marks.
After a 1-3 start, the results are now coming. The Patriots are riding a three-game win streak and have ascended into the seventh and final playoff spot in the AFC. They also are 10th in the NFL in scoring at 25.6 points per game.
Jones has shown poise and mental toughness, winning each of his first four starts on the road. He joins Dak Prescott and Ben Roethlisberger as the only rookie quarterbacks ever to do so.
And most importantly, Jones is improving as the season progresses. His stats took a significant jump almost across the board from September to October; he threw more touchdown passes, fewer interceptions, completed a higher percentage of passes, took fewer sacks, and pushed the ball downfield more.
“I think Mac has made progress in basically everything we’re trying to do,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “We put a lot on the quarterback, and he’s never shied away from that. He’s always loved the burden that we put on the quarterback.”
Let’s take a closer look at Jones’s performance through nine games.
▪ Mac vs. the NFL vs. the Rookies
Jones’s numbers are average or slightly below average compared with the rest of the NFL. He ranks 21st in passing yards per game, 20th in touchdown passes, 19th in yards per attempt, 22nd in passer rating, and has the 10th-most interceptions.
|Mac Jones||NFL ranking||Rookie ranking|
|Yards per game||237.2||21st||1st|
|INTs||7||T-10th most||5th fewest|
|Yards per attempt||7.12||19th||1st|
Compared with his fellow rookies, though, Jones looks like Johnny Unitas. He ranks first among rookies in passing yards, touchdown passes, completion percentage, yards per attempt, and passer rating, and has the fewest interceptions of the five regular starters. Not bad for the fifth quarterback drafted last April.
Most importantly, Jones is the only rookie QB to have his team in the playoff mix. Jones’s five wins are as many as Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Davis Mills have combined.
Jones definitely has the best coaching and the best team around him. But the fit between him and the Patriots has been as good as expected.
▪ Protecting the football
Jones’s seven interceptions are 10th-most in the NFL, though on a per-pass basis, he ranks 14th with interceptions on 2.3 percent of his passes. But he has improved by month. In three September games, his TD-INT ratio was 2:3. In five October games, it was 7:3.
In his five wins, Jones has four touchdown passes and two interceptions. He’s not lighting up the scoreboard, but he’s keeping the ball away from the other team.
In the four losses, Jones has six touchdown passes and five interceptions. He has to be more aggressive, and it leads to more scores and more turnovers. Five of Jones’s seven interceptions have come while trailing.
▪ Pushing the football downfield
The most important statistic for a quarterback arguably is yards per attempt, as it accounts for incompletions and how well he pushes the ball downfield.
Jones ranks 19th in the NFL in yards per attempt at 7.12, below the league average of 7.34. But he ranks higher than Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Roethlisberger, and Jared Goff, and of course all of the other rookie quarterbacks.
|Month||Yards per game||Yards per attempt||TD passes||INTs|
And Jones has gotten markedly more aggressive from month to month. In September, Jones was Captain Checkdown, averaging 6.14 yards per attempt (29th). In October, he averaged 7.77 (13th).
But that doesn’t mean Jones and McDaniels are cutting it loose. Eight of Jones’s 10 touchdown passes have come from inside the red zone, and 217 of his 300 pass attempts (72.3 percent) have traveled 10 yards or fewer in the air (including behind the line of scrimmage).
Jones hasn’t been especially accurate with intermediate or deep passes, either. On passes that travel 11-20 yards in the air, his 52.9 completion percentage ranks 21st. On passes that travel at least 21 yards in the air, his 28.1 completion percentage ranks 27th.
▪ Shotgun/running the ball
Jones has thrown 70.3 percent of his passes out of the shotgun, which sounds high but represents the fourth-lowest rate in the NFL. Only Kirk Cousins (61.9 percent), Fields (65.8 percent), and Jameis Winston (66.5 percent) throw less out of the shotgun.
Ergo, Jones has the fourth-highest percentage of throws from under center, which makes sense when you think about helping a rookie quarterback with the run game and play-action. The Patriots have the 10th-most rushing attempts in the NFL at 27.3 per game, and the ninth-highest run percentage at 43.2 percent of plays.
Jones is getting blitzed a ton, with mixed results. His 103 pass attempts against the blitz are by far the most in the NFL, with Cousins next at 85. Jones’s 11.4 pass attempts per game against the blitz are third behind Prescott and Tyrod Taylor (11.7 each).
The blitz does seem to rattle Jones a bit. His 62.1 completion percentage ranks 19th. His 6.65 yards per attempt rank 23rd. He has three touchdown passes and a league-high five interceptions against the blitz, as well as seven sacks.
|Month||Sacks per game||Fumbles/lost||1st down %||QB rating|
Jones’s 71.1 passer rating against the blitz ranks 29th out of 33 quarterbacks.
▪ Passing by down, and red zone
Jones has been at his best on first down. He has five touchdown passes, one interception, averages 8.2 yards per attempt, and has a 104.5 passer rating, which is 11th in the NFL. He has nine completions of at least 25 yards on first down, tied for third-most.
His numbers take a bit of a dive on second and third down. On second down, his yards per attempt dip to 6.36, and his 82.8 rating ranks 26th.
On third down, Jones averages 6.65 yards per attempt, and his 83.9 passer rating ranks 19th. But he does convert 41.6 percent of his passes into first downs, which ranks 13th.
And Jones has been solid if unspectacular in the red zone. The Patriots rank only 23rd with touchdowns on 54.8 percent of their red zone opportunities. But Jones has been safe and effective. He has seven touchdowns, no interceptions, and a 107.8 passer rating that ranks ninth.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.