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Tara Sullivan

Mac Jones, Patriots offense show some signs in quarterback’s first preseason action

Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (left) was 4-of-8 passing for 61 yards in his short appearance against the Panthers.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

FOXBOROUGH — As metaphors go, comparing the Patriots’ offense to a construction project has been a pretty easy leap, a streamlined playbook, a few staff changes and turnover in personnel feeding the consistent training camp/preseason theme.

Friday night, under the shadow of the towering construction cranes that served as perfect symbolism for the simultaneous reconstruction they are doing to the team’s Gillette Stadium home, quarterback Mac Jones and Co. showed some positive signs they are finally beginning to lay a solid foundation. And while it was far from perfect, the three-series appearance by the offensive starters ended on a high note, a touchdown drive highlighted by one great downfield throw erasing the sour taste of two three-and-outs to open the night.


The one great throw — a 45-yard dime down the sideline that dropped beautifully into the hands of Nelson Agholor and, at the time, gave the Pats a 7-3 lead on the way to a 20-10 win over the Panthers — was more than enough to remind the Patriots why Jones is their man under center. It was also the sigh of relief that he could still channel the accuracy and poise that characterized so much of his Pro Bowl rookie season. That didn’t look so certain in the game’s early going.

“It was a little bit of a rocky start but that’s how it goes when you haven’t played in a while,” Jones said. “We didn’t freak out, We carried on and got our mojo back.”

Jones didn’t have to say the obvious — he couldn’t wait to get back on the field, no interest in replaying his status as in-game cheerleader in the preseason opener against the Giants. You could see it from the early going on Friday as he tore down the sideline for his customary pregame sprint, emitting a primal scream at the end that spoke to the competitive fire that fuels him. With only one more preseason game to go next week in Vegas, it was time to get him back in the heat of a game.


For him and for us alike. Of all the themes heading into his Year 2 (and Year 3 of the great post-Brady rebuild), Jones represents the most important one of all. He has faced plenty of questions already — from the offensive line in front of him to the running backs alongside him to the coaches calling plays over on the sideline — and with the Sept. 11 regular-season opener in Miami rapidly approaching, it’s time to start getting some answers.

For this night, anyway, Matt Patricia was the answer to the preseason’s hottest question — who would call the plays for Jones’s offense now that Josh McDaniels is the Raiders’ head coach? While head coach Bill Belichick remained coy about a final decision, insisting it’s still “a process,” it was Patricia who had the headset Friday night. Jones sure seemed to endorse it, saying after the game that Patricia is “doing a great job” and describing him as “one of the most brilliant people I’ve been around, his football knowledge” and crediting him for “being so easy to talk to on the sidelines.”

Easy to say at the end of the night, but after those first two series, Patricia may have been eager to toss the headset to Joe Judge. After an opening handoff to Damien Harris, Jones threw a quick hot read to DeVante Parker, a catchable ball even if it was a little bit behind the receiver. Parker dropped it.


Then, behind an offensive line of Yodny Cajuste, Cole Strange, David Andrews, James Ferentz and Mike Onwenu, Jones was flushed quickly by defensive line pressure (Ferentz was practically walked back into the huddle), tried to step up and run, but with nowhere to go, got dropped for a 6-yard sack.

The second series wasn’t much better. A 3-yard run by Rhamondre Stevenson, an incomplete pass to Jakobi Meyers that Jones would have loved to have back given how it got away, sailing just too high for Meyers’s outstretched hands, and an incompletion to Stevenson when Jones had plenty of time but there was some obvious miscommunication when Stevenson never turned around for the ball.

“We just missed a couple plays on the first two. You know, that’s football,” Belichick said. “I don’t think there were really any big problems, just our execution.”

Two drives, two quick punts, and then, after a scoring drive by Carolina, a deficit as the offense took the field for a third try.

A third try that proved a charm.

Ten plays, 81 yards, a 4:54 drive that took the Pats from the first quarter to the second and ultimately took Ty Montgomery on a 2-yard run into the end zone.

The key moment came three plays in, when Jones converted a third and 5 with a 7-yard pass to Agholor. An incompletion into traffic on the next play (when Jones was flushed out of the pocket, tried to dance for some extra time, and proved his resilience by bouncing up from a hard hit by 330-pound defensive lineman Bravvion Roy) and a run by Montomery left Jones facing another third down, which he converted with a 5-yard completion to Montgomery.


With room to breathe, Jones, comfortably in his familiar shotgun, then let it fly to Agholor. Forty-five yards later, he followed that with a 7-yard scramble and two handoffs to Montgomery, the second into the end zone. Three series and his night was done, his 61 yards on 4-of-8 passing and the touchdown allowing a happy final walk to the sideline.

“It was good to string some plays together,” Belichick said. “Wish we could have done that earlier, but it was good to finally get that done.”

The construction project is ongoing. But Friday night showed some signs of a decent foundation being built.

Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.