LOS ANGELES — There’s no rest for the rookie.
Patriots quarterback Mac Jones followed up a revelatory rookie season by not slowing down at all this offseason. He’s been running a hurry-up scheme, going from the Pro Bowl in Las Vegas to the red carpet of the NFL Honors held here in LA — site of Super Bowl LVI — to making the rounds on Radio Row Friday.
Jones had to follow in the considerable footsteps of Tom Brady after Cam Newton served a season as the palate-cleanser passer, and acquitted himself quite well with the best rookie season by a quarterback in franchise history. He would like to follow in the footsteps of Cincinnati Bengals QB Joe Burrow, a player to whom Jones has been compared, and be back at the Super Bowl next season as a starting quarterback.
“Yeah, I think Joe is a great player,” said Jones, who was making the rounds to promote the trendy Boston-based sportswear brand NOBULL. “Obviously, I got a chance to watch him in college and play against him on the same field and all that. He just improves every year, and that’s my goal, to improve every year.
“The same thing I did after watching him play really well in college I tried to do some things that he does. I think he’s a great player, and, hopefully, I can make a big jump like he did in Year 2.”
That would mean Jones goes into the QB chrysalis and emerges transformed, spreading his wings as a full-fledged franchise quarterback.
Jones, who set a franchise rookie record for touchdown passes (22), is already in esteemed quarterback company. He got to rub elbows with the game’s elite quarterbacks at the Pro Bowl in Las Vegas, elected to the game as an alternate after several other AFC QBs bowed out.
It was an instructive and edifying experience, hanging with the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson, as well as fellow young guns Justin Herbert and Kyler Murray.
“I think it was good to see those guys — they’ve all been in the league for a little bit — and how they interact with people,” said Jones. “Even talking about offensive football, the differences, the things that I want to add to my game.
“I always asked them questions about everything — from what do you do here with your footwork or what routes [do you like here]? And sometimes they’ll give me good information. I think it’s good.”
Jones guided the Patriots to the playoffs and led all rookie passers in TDs, completion percentage (67.6, the second-best for a rookie in NFL history), yards (3,801), and rating (92.5).
Jones and the Bill Belichick revivalists were riding high as the Patriots held the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a 9-4 record entering their bye week. Mac was on pace to set the rookie record for completion percentage, connecting on 70.3 percent to that point.
But the Patriots faltered down the stretch, losing three of their final four games, all by double digits, and then getting blown out by Buffalo in the playoffs.
The path to contention with Jones as a rookie proved as narrow as a North End side street. The Patriots needed to play from ahead. They didn’t win a game all season in which the opponent scored 25 points. That’s a difficult road to travel in today’s points-pyrotechnics NFL.
In the final five games of the season, including the playoff loss, Jones’s numbers dipped as he was repeatedly forced to play from behind. His completion percentage dropped by nearly 10 percent to 60.6 percent, he tossed eight touchdown passes and seven interceptions, and he posted a rating of 78.8.
“I think you just had to look at the whole season and see where you can improve,” said Jones. That’s what I do every year after I play a season. It’s how can I improve individually and how can I improve as a team/offense?
“We’ll address it all, and I think we want to play better down the stretch. We want to play our best football at the end of the year. That’s an obvious fact, so we’ll figure out what we can do.”
He’ll have to do that without offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who put him in a position to succeed. McDaniels has moved on as head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders.
Burrow as an analogue for Jones is really the best-case scenario. Burrow is known for his swagger. No one is going to say that about Jones just yet, but his teammates say Mac has a swag that belies his milquetoast mien with the media.
Matthew Judon called Jones a “baller” here on Radio Row Wednesday,
“Mac is a very cool dude,” Judon told 98.5 the Sports Hub’s “Felger & Mazz” program. “I love Mac as a quarterback and the person who he is. I think he’s going to be great for New England.”
Mac’s on-field persona was on display at the Pro Bowl, where he did the popular dance the Griddy after a long run that didn’t count and showed he possesses a PhD in trash talk.
After throwing a pinpoint touchdown pass to Raiders receiver Hunter Renfrow, Jones hilariously asked NFC cornerback Darius Slay of the Philadelphia Eagles, “Remember when I torched you all in training camp?”
Dare I say, Jones sounded a little bit like another one-time New England quarterback that is a legendary trash talker, You Know Who.
“Yeah, I think they put a mike on me, so you got to see a little bit of what I’m like out there,” said Jones, chuckling when told how surprisingly good his trash talk was.
“But, yeah, I’m just planning on getting more comfortable and being myself. All that goes back to just being a good teammate and trying to win.”
It’s been a whirlwind year for Jones. He won a national championship for Certified FOB (Friend of Belichick) Nick Saban and Alabama in January of 2021, then jumped right into preparing for the NFL Draft, got taken by the Patriots in the first round, and then hunkered down to win a training camp quarterback competition with Newton. That was followed by starting 18 NFL games.
“This year is obviously a long year, but I’m just looking forward to next year and growing,” said Jones.
Burrow wears No. 9. Jones dons No. 10. Belichick and Patriots true believers are hoping that they can count on No. 10 following No. 9 as a championship quarterback, just as he did in the SEC.