Mac Jones keeps checking the boxes, passing the tests.
Managing the game. Check. Completion percentage. Check. Pocket presence. Check. Taking the hits. Check. Inspiring teammates. Check. Winning close games. Check.
Now a new one. Mac Jones Sunday showed he can play in a cold weather game, too.
This wasn’t Patriots vs. Titans at Gillette in January of 2004 (windchill, minus 10 degrees) when Tom Brady and Co. beat the Titans, 17-14, in a playoff rock fight. It wasn’t the Snow Bowl Tuck Rule Game against the Raiders. It wasn’t Orchard Park, N.Y., in December (that’ll be next week).
But it was near freezing with snow showers in Foxborough and privileged folks in the red seats stayed inside by the big fireplaces while Jones completed 23 of 32 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns in a 36-13 demolition of Mike Vrabel’s top-seeded Titans. Jones was sacked twice, but didn’t have to do much after a spectacular 41-yard touchdown pass play to Kendrick Bourne made it 26-13 with five minutes left in the third.
So there. The Patriots and their kid quarterback won their sixth straight game and moved back into sole possession of first place in the AFC East. They have as many wins as Brady’s defending Super Bowl champs, and they’ve established that their warm weather quarterback can handle himself when its cold outside. We all know this matters when playoff teams play snow football in December and January.
Jones said the elements never bothered him.
“The practices [in cold weather] help,” said Jones. “It’s a mind-set thing. Coach Belichick always tell us to get what you need on, and be prepared, and don’t complain about it. It is what it is. It’s just a mind-set. Obviously, it will get worse. I have to figure it out and work through it.”
Rookie Jones grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., and played his college football in the SEC at Alabama. He is not a cold-weather guy, which can be a frightening prospect when fans first evaluate their franchise quarterback. Bill Parcells famously told us he likes to draft players from the Big Ten because you won’t see those guys putting their hands in their pockets between plays of post-Thanksgiving football games played in the Northeast and Midwest.
Brady grew up in northern California, but passed the frostbite exam in the Big House at Michigan. Along with everything else, Tom Brady was impervious to bad weather.
Drew Bledsoe, who watched Jones’s dissection of the Titans from Bob Kraft’s klieg-lit box, made his bones throwing darts in a blizzard, winning the Apple Cup for Washington State.
We are not so sure about Jones, but early returns are encouraging.
“I love that we get to practice outside … it will be a lot colder," Jones said.
He connected with the suddenly-spectacular Bourne on a 4-yard touchdown pass to give the Patriots a 7-0 first quarter lead, and never put on gloves. The Pats punted only once.
Jones was far from perfect. He missed Hunter Henry with a certain touchdown pass near the end of the first half, and had a hideous sequence in the third in which he drilled a short pass into the ground, threw what should have been a pick-6 (Titans linebacker Dylan Cole could not hold on to the ball), then came up short on a rush up the middle, but signaled “first down” when he got up — evidently not knowing where he was on the field.
When asked about the play, Jones smiled and said, “You mean the one I ran on and I thought I got the first down? I didn’t think I got the first down. I thought they were going to call it. I slid headfirst, so it doesn’t count. But it is what it is. That was just a rookie error there."
On the missed TD pass when Henry was wide open?
“I just didn’t throw the right pass," Jones confessed. “I wish I had that back. I had plenty of time in the pocket. That one’s on me."
Despite the six-game winning streak and ascension in the conference seedings, Belichick and his kid QB know that New England’s red-zone offense is lacking. They’re settling for too many field goals.
“We didn’t do a great job in the red area," said the Hoodie. “We left a lot of points on the field . . . There’s certainly some things we could have done better … we play Buffalo [next] Monday night. We’ll see. Eight wins is not enough to clinch anything. We’ve got a long way to go . . . We’ve got to coach and play better."
“The best teams in the league are like 70 percent on touchdowns there [red zone], so we can do better,” added “aww-shucks” Jones.
Swell. But let’s not quarrel with all this success in this surprise gift of a season. We all know that New England’s defense won this game, forcing four turnovers and stuffing Tennessee with a goal-line stand, but the rookie quarterback did what he has been doing almost every week. He led the Patriots to victory. On a fairly cold day.
More Patriots-Titans stories
- Patriots 36, Titans 13: The Patriots really took it to the Titans after Mac Jones took a big hit
- Kendrick Bourne, J.C. Jackson come to the rescue in Patriots’ hard-nosed win over the Titans | Instant Analysis
- Unconventional Review: In a matchup of talented, well-coached teams, Patriots wore down banged-up Titans
- ‘Eight games ain’t enough.’ Here’s what Bill Belichick had to say after the Patriots’ victory over the Titans
- ‘I love you, Coach.’ Mac Jones opens up on relationship with late high school coach Corky Rogers
- Titans coach Mike Vrabel knows the score: ‘This game’s about points, not stats’