FOXBOROUGH — The theme of the Patriots postgame locker room was all about lost opportunity Sunday, about the mistakes that cost the team a chance to beat the decidedly beatable visiting Ravens, about the lost fumbles and lost interceptions that erased an otherwise promising offensive day and led, ultimately, to a 37-26 loss.
But as bad as that was — and trust us, it was bad, like three turnovers in the last four possessions bad — there was a deeper concern taking root in that same Patriots locker room, with a heavy pall cast by the ugly ankle injury quarterback Mac Jones suffered on his final throw of the afternoon. Like a black cloud hovering over the scraps of discarded tape, empty Gatorade bottles and overflowing laundry hampers scattered throughout the room, the sense of uncertainty was impossible to ignore, with hushed players moving quietly to change and empty their lockers.
The loss of one game is tough enough for an NFL player to take, and falling to 1-2 on the season with a Week 4 trip to Green Bay looming doesn’t necessarily go down well either. But watching your quarterback writhe on the field in pain, grabbing the lower left leg that had just been caught and twisted under the weight of defensive lineman Calais Campbell, and then seeing him get up only to be completely unable to put any weight on the ankle and forced to hop his way to the sideline? Then realizing later he would disappear immediately down the stairs toward the locker room, bypassing the on-field medical tent, his face contorted in pain while team personnel carried him on either side?
That just made everything worse.
“There’s a lot of things going on,” said running back Damien Harris, one of Jones’s closest friends on the team and his former teammate from Alabama. “Obviously we would have loved to come out here and win today, so we got that in the back of our minds. And obviously what happened with Mac, that’s an unfortunate situation. A couple other guys get banged up in the game too. When you put it all together it’s not a great feeling walking off the field with a loss and a couple of your guys getting hurt.
“Yeah, it’s tough, you never want to see your quarterback go down like that. I think everyone knows how tight me and Mac are, and it’s definitely not something any of us want to see. But Mac’s a tough kid and we all know that whatever is going on he’s going to do his best to get back on the field.”
The Patriots had no immediate update on Jones’s injury other than to say his leg was being evaluated, and as usual, coach Bill Belichick offered zero insight into Jones’s status, unwilling even to illuminate what happened on the play, issuing a flat “No,” when asked for any details. Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reported that X-rays of Jones’s ankle were negative, but the eye test, which showed the young quarterback’s face contorted in agony, and the ear test, with reports of Jones literally screaming in pain as he was taken off the field, tell a grim story.
Grimmer than the Week 1 concern over Jones’s back, when the second-year pro went straight to an X-ray room after a loss to the Dolphins but returned to the practice field by Wednesday and was on the field for last week’s win in Pittsburgh. It was a recovery that spoke to one of Jones’s most consistent traits since being named the team’s starter as a rookie. For all the growing pains he has gone through, from the occasional poor decision-making (three more picks Sunday), frequent fallback into tunnel vision with favored receivers (forcing the ball too many times to DeVante Parker Sunday) or reminding us that he does not have the strongest arm in the league (suffering by comparison with the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson), toughness has never been an issue.
Willing to stand in the pocket, able to absorb a hit, happy even to throw a block or attempt a tackle on a turnover, Jones has more than impressed teammates with his resilience.
No wonder veteran safety Devin McCourty wasn’t ready to rule out Jones just yet. “Obviously playing quarterback in this league you take hits. It’s tough. That’s why, when you ask my level of concern, I have no idea because I know if he has something he can go and play with he’s going to play with it,” McCourty said.
Or in the words of tight end Jonnu Smith, “Mac Jones is a dog. He’s a fighter.”
But fighters need their legs. Quarterbacks might make a living with their arms, but they need to be able to plant their feet to throw. Jones couldn’t even put his foot on the ground to get off the field. The Patriots might have no choice but to go to Brian Hoyer, their ageless veteran backup who is on the roster as much to mentor Jones as he is to be ready to play.
“He’s a leader. He’s a vet,” Parker said. “He knows the defenses. He’s seen it all. If anything happens, he’ll come out and do what he can to help the team.”
“I have confidence in him. Brian has a good relationship with the Patriots and this team overall, this 2022 team,” said receiver Kendrick Bourne, who, as a rookie with the 49ers, played with Hoyer and looked to him as a mentor. “I pray Mac’s OK but like I said, next man up, and I think Brian is a natural leader.”
Good for his teammates for saying the right things, but remember, two years ago, when called on to step in for then-starter Cam Newton, who was waylaid by COVID, Hoyer struggled so much the team was forced to use Jarrett Stidham, who never inspired confidence. If Jones is facing a long-term break, maybe Belichick goes straight to rookie Bailey Zappe, and this season suddenly turns into something far different than anticipated.
More Patriots-Ravens coverage
• Ravens 37, Patriots 26: There was just too much for the Patriots to overcome
• On the bright side: DeVante Parker announced his presence with authority