Mac Jones is better than Mitch Trubisky.
So there’s that.
This is the NFL and a win is a win. Your quarterback can be terrible on any given Sunday, or your quarterback can manage the game well enough to beat a Tomato Can that is begging to be crushed.
So we will resist the urge to be spoiled and unsatisfied with the Patriots’ 17-14 victory at Pittsburgh Sunday. We won’t say that this 60-minute rock fight set the sport back a couple of decades, or that we still have a million questions about Jones, 2022 Bill Belichick, and New England’s William F. Buckley/Pat Buchanan offensive game plan.
Let’s not worry about style points at this hour. The Pats’ offensive line was much better, the defense stuffed the once-vaunted Steelers, New England was able to eat clock at the end of the game, and yes, Mac was better than Mitch.
“Great team win,” said Jones. “Our offensive line was amazing. I didn’t really get hit.”
It was quite the week for New England’s second-year, post-Brady quarterback. Jones had an underwhelming season opener at Miami, managing to put only one touchdown on the board in a 20-7 loss. His back was injured on a high-low hit late in the game, and he went to the X-ray room instead of the interview room when it was over.
Uncertainty was compounded four days later when Jones could not practice because of an unspecified illness. This led to wild speculation covering everything from COVID protocol to an unsubstantiated rumor that Gisele didn’t want Mac to play football anymore. As of lunchtime Friday, we still didn’t know if Jones would start in Pittsburgh.
But he returned to practice Friday and got the start at Heinz Field (sorry, it will always be Heinz) as pressure mounted on beleaguered Bill and Piñata Patricia. The Pats hadn’t lost their first two games of any season since 2001, when Drew Bledsoe started the season as franchise quarterback.
Jones finished with 21 completions on 35 attempts with one touchdown pass and one interception in Pittsburgh. His TD strike was a long ball down the right sideline to Nelson Agholor. The ball was slightly underthrown and Ahkello Witherspoon was in great position to intercept, but Agholor — who is 2 inches shorter than Witherspoon — went into Randy Moss mode, outleaping the defender and plucking the ball off the top of his helmet for a 44-yard touchdown.
“Those are things we practice every day,’’ said Agholor. “I’ve played eight years and I’ve been on both sides of those.’’
“We’ve worked on that play,’’ said Jones. “Fifty-fifty balls. If it’s one on one, I’ll give him a shot.’’
“Good job by Mac giving the receiver a chance to go get it,’’ said Belichick.
The Patriots seemed afraid of Jones for a good portion of this game, keeping him in shotgun formation, eschewing play-action, and relying heavily on the ground game. New England’s first drive ate up 13 plays, went 71 yards and put 3 points on the board. Boring, but efficient.
“I like the shotgun,’’ said Jones. “I like under center, too. It’s important as an offense to be able to do both . . . I just want to score points.’’
Accuracy was Jones’s trademark at Alabama and again in his NFL rookie season. He’s thrown two picks in the first two games of ‘22 (both on balls forced to new toy DeVante Parker) and received a huge gift in the third quarter when a horrible pass bounced in and out of the arms of Pittsburgh cornerback Cameron Sutton.
“The one interception wasn’t good by me, but I’ll get that cleaned up,’’ said Jones.
Seconds after Jones escaped what would have been a second interception, a Jake Bailey punt bounced off the facemask of imbedded Patriot Gunner Olszewski. The woeful Steelers compounded this mistake with a personal foul, giving the Pats a first and goal and it took only three plays to get the ball into the end zone, giving New England an insurmountable 17-6 lead.
Angry Steeler fans called for rookie backup quarterback Kenny Pickett throughout the second half.
“Pittsburgh’s tough, like they always are,’’ said a generous Belichick. “We got some good football when we needed it.’’
It was a win only hardcore, footie-pajama Patriot fans could love, but it’s progress.
Jones and the Pats come home next weekend to play the Ravens and quarterback Lamar Jackson. Then it’s on to Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers.
Two more guys who are better than Mitch Trubisky.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.