FOXBOROUGH — Mac Jones was having a good time Thursday night.
The Patriots quarterback exchanged extravagant handshakes with his teammates during warm-ups, led them out of the tunnel, and led the team in sideline smiles.
What Jones didn’t do was take a snap or break a sweat in the exhibition opener, leaving the signal-calling duties to polished veteran Brian Hoyer and precocious rookie Bailey Zappe.
Jones figures to get a heavy workload over the next two weeks, particularly during joint workouts with the Panthers Aug. 16-17, and in Las Vegas Aug. 23-24.
Though nobody caught passes from Jones, here are some of the things that caught the eye during a 23-21 loss to the Giants that was secured on Graham Gano’s 24-yard walkoff field goal.
▪ Signals from the sideline.
Similar to how things have played out during training camp, it was a collaborative effort when it came to offensive play-calling.
Matt Patricia and Joe Judge took turns, with Patricia, who also is the offensive line coach, doing the job when Hoyer was in the game and Judge taking over when Zappe jumped in.
“We did a lot of things in this game that will be beneficial in the long run, whether it was on the coaching staff, playing time, players that played and so forth. It’s all part of the process,’’ said Bill Belichick.
The coach said the opener presented “a good opportunity” to use multiple play-callers and that the staff will make a decision at some point.
“We’ll work it out,” he said. “We’re going through a process, just like everything else on this team.”
Belichick was pleased overall with how the communication between the staff and players worked.
“We had 12 men on defense on one play, but otherwise … we had plenty of time for the most part. We had a couple injuries and a couple substitution issues, but overall, those are more —it wasn’t the operation, it was a guy being hurt or a substitute because that caused some other substitution things, so we can clean that up a little bit, but I thought we were on the ball quickly, had plenty of time to operate.’’
Both Hoyer and Zappe said the play, not the play-caller, was what they were focused on.
“I just listened to my helmet and called the play that’s said to me, so whether it’s Matt or Joe or whoever it might be, I’m not concerned about — I’m worried about what defense they’re running [and] how we’re going to execute the play,” said Hoyer.
Said Zappe, “It doesn’t really matter to me. I’m focused on the play that’s coming in.”
▪ Understudies were under control.
A 14-year veteran, Hoyer led one scoring drive, showing nice poise and patience on a 2-yard toss to Tyquan Thornton as he waited for the rookie to shake his man. He finished 5 of 8 for 59 yards.
Zappe had a rough start, but once the jitters disappeared, the kid was solid. He has a very strong arm and opened the second half with an exceptional drive with a couple of nifty connections to Tre Nixon.
Zappe (19 of 32 for 205 yards) did have an ugly interception on a telegraphed pass in the fourth quarter but bounced back with a go-ahead touchdown drive that culminated with a toss to Lil’Jordan Humphrey that gave New England a short-lived 21-20 lead.
▪ Veterans fully invested.
While most of the Patriots’ projected Week 1 starters were reduced to spectator status, they were into the game.
While some teams allow their players to take off their pads and just shoot the breeze in the second half of preseason games, Belichick’s teams have never done that. Every player stays ready to go just in case, and they watch the game.
When Myles Bryant pulled off a couple of shifty punt returns, his teammates went nuts and ran to him. When receiver Kristian Wilkerson appeared to be interfered with on a deep pass from Bailey, plenty of Patriots pleaded with the refs for a call. When Zappe threw his TD, Jones was one of the first to run out with a celebratory fist bump.
That kind of behavior builds camaraderie.
“We had good leadership from all our veteran players,’’ said Belichick. “They were great on the sideline, encouraging the players who were playing and trying to help them out. There’s a lot of guys that didn’t play, and I know I noticed many, many of them, if not all of them, being part of that.’’
▪ Cornering the market.
Veterans Malcolm Butler and Terrance Mitchell got the start as the outside corners and both were active as they continue to compete for jobs.
They play a similar, scrappy style. Mitchell had four combined tackles and a forced fumble, and Butler had a tackle and recovered that fumble.
▪ Odds and ends.
It’s preseason for the referees, too. John Hussey’s crew was well into double digits on penalty calls when the fourth quarter started and several (including a taunting call on New York’s Aaron Robinson and a roughing-the-passer infraction on New England’s Nate Wieland) were awful … There were 20 total accepted penalties, including a dozen on the home team …Belichick did have one lengthy chat with Hussey but it ended with smiles from both … Rookie running back Kevin Harris scored New England’s other TD … Tough game for Patriots tackle Justin Herron, who had two false starts and was injured late in the fourth quarter, though he did eventually jog off without help. Fellow offensive linemen Yodny Cajuste and Bill Murray also left with undisclosed ailments. Belichick commented that it was Cajuste’s best game. “Hopefully [his injury] tonight is not too serious,’’ he said.