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Tara Sullivan

Mac Jones managed, especially in the second half, in a game he got to start — and finish — for the Patriots

Mac Jones was 24-of-35 passing for 194 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — With the Patriots on the road in front of a Jets crowd too disgusted with the play of its own second-year, first-round quarterback to bother yelling anything at the visiting team’s second-year, first-round QB, Mac Jones was well insulated Sunday from the type of dispiriting boos and catcalls he’d heard Monday night at Gillette Stadium.

In other words, nothing Zappening here. No more Zappe hour on tap. No “Brady” Zappe quips about him authoring his own sub-to-stardom story. In fact, the most action backup Bailey Zappe got at MetLife Stadium was on the sideline while the Patriots’ defense was on the field, helping Jones keep his arm warm by returning passes via receiver Nelson Agholor.


This was Jones’s game from start to finish.

Once he got the start — confirmed by head coach Bill Belichick on Thursday — he was determined to take it to the finish.

And that he did, guiding the Patriots to a crucial 22-17 Week 8 decision, a must-win division contest that keeps these uneven Patriots (4-4) from falling too far behind the AFC East pack to even entertain a playoff dream. But, while the sophomore QB continues his road back from the high ankle sprain that stole three weeks of playing time and the bizarre battle with Zappe that confused the entire conversation beyond that, he remains very much a work in progress.

It’s not that Jones is the Patriots’ problem. One look at the quarterback taken 13 spots ahead of him in the 2021 draft, the one who happened to be on the other side of the field Sunday, reminds you what a real quarterback problem looks like.

Zach Wilson is a complete liability for the Jets, a singular threat to waste what is otherwise a legitimately dangerous roster with a very solid defense. Wilson is a No. 2 overall pick who runs away from the pocket like it’s on fire, who wings the football downfield like it’s candy from a Christmas float, who doesn’t seem able to discern when to hold onto the ball and when to get rid of it, all of which leaves him giving defenders the ball as easily as he does his receivers. He’s a mess.


Jones is not Wilson, but nor has he silenced lingering doubts about being the Patriots’ long-term answer. He rightfully staved off whatever cries for his benching might remain (for at least another week, anyway), but this Patriots offense has yet to reach a level of consistency that would get them off what feels like their week-to-week roller coaster of survival.

To his credit, Jones knows it. He repeatedly insisted after the game, “We need to score more points,” and he pointedly said of the roughing-the-passer call that reversed what would have been a back-breaking pick-6 late in the second quarter, “The penalty saved us.”

He took a beating behind an offensive line with no David Andrews (concussion), too much Isaiah Wynn (the penalty machine), and the worst professional day on record for rookie Cole Strange. But even after a season-high six sacks, Jones said only, “I’ve got to get the ball out on some of those sacks. It was definitely not just one thing.”

Across an ugly slog of a first half, that pressure, and the multitude of penalties against the Jets it wrought or the scrambles by Jones it forced, seemed to be New England’s best offensive plan. They trailed, 10-6, at the half. But something happened across intermission, and while it’s easy to point to the game plan by the coaches (Belichick didn’t ultimately earn his second all-time career 325th NFL victory without making a few key halftime adjustments along the way), Jones made it possible with some extra work in the short week.


The Patriots came out flying to start the third quarter, and their uptempo, no-huddle touchdown drive to open the second half all but iced the game. It didn’t happen by accident. Jones, reinstalled as the leader of the offense, was instrumental in organizing extra film sessions, available for plenty of post-practice throwing sessions, and involved in lots of ongoing conversations detailing play responsibilities. The result was an ability to play fast.

“For me, it was an attitude and effort of being a good teammate, trying to work at leading the guys,” he said. “That’s an attribute of mine I rely on. I felt we did extra things this week and it showed up on the field. If we continue to do that, the results will show up.

“It was obviously very beneficial, getting more reps in our own time, whatever we had questions on: How do we do this? What do we need to do here? It’s important, we made strides and it starts in practice.”

Jones got his starting job back this week, and he was determined to take it to the finish line.


“He managed the game well, he managed our team well,” Belichick said. “That’s a quarterback’s job, to help the team win. And that’s what he did.”

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