At least they have Houston.
In the two seasons since Mac Jones took over at quarterback, the Patriots have exactly one fourth-quarter, come-from-behind victory: a 25-22 win over the tanking Texans in Week 5 last season. The Patriots trailed, 22-9, in the third quarter, but clawed their way back with two field goals and a touchdown, then won the game with a last-second field goal. Jones led the Patriots 84 yards in 15 plays, bleeding seven minutes of the final 7:15 off the clock.
And that’s it.
Twenty-five starts into his NFL career, Jones is still searching for a signature win as he prepares for Thursday’s showdown against the Bills. That Texans game is his only fourth-quarter comeback, and his only game-winning drive.
Jones has had several opportunities to carry his team to victory, but he and the Patriots offense keep coming up short.
Last year, Jones and the Patriots didn’t do enough in the fourth quarter in a close loss to the Buccaneers, couldn’t move the ball in overtime in a loss to the Cowboys, and fell into too big of a hole to pull off a comeback against the Colts.
|Fourth quarter||When trailing|
|TD percentage||25th highest||32nd highest|
|INT percentage||23rd highest||6th highest|
The late-game struggles have been more pronounced this year. In Week 3, the Patriots trailed the Ravens, 31-26, in the fourth quarter, but finished the game interception (in the end zone), fumble, interception. In Week 4, with Bailey Zappe taking over for an injured Brian Hoyer, the Patriots led the Packers, 24-17, in the fourth quarter but finished punt, punt, punt to lose in OT.
And last week, the Patriots led the Vikings, 26-23, in the fourth quarter, and had scored points on six of their first seven possessions. But Jones and the offense stalled in the fourth, finishing punt, punt, turnover on downs, end of game. They reached the Vikings’ 33-yard line with 3:38 left, but a sack and two incompletions ruined the opportunity.
The Patriots offense snapped out of a funk with 409 yards and 26 points against the Vikings, but still came up small in the game’s biggest moments.
“Want to be able to score more points and win the game, so that’s all that I care about,” Jones said after the loss. “That’s all that we care about is winning, and we didn’t do that tonight.”
If Jones is going to be the franchise quarterback for the long term, then he has to start carrying his team — whether that’s playing better in the fourth quarter, or from behind, or when his defense doesn’t dominate. The Patriots defense has 12 takeaways in their six wins, and just six takeaways in their five losses.
Jones is still young, of course, but age is not an excuse for his lack of signature wins. When Tom Brady came from nowhere in 2001, the Patriots may have won mostly with defense, but Brady authored fourth-quarter wins over the Chargers, Jets, and Bills, before famously doing it against the Raiders and Rams in the postseason. Even Cam Newton, who struggled for most of the 2020 season, had one fourth-quarter comeback and three game-winning drives that year.
Jones’s crunch-time stats compared with his peers are eye-opening:
▪ Since the start of the 2021 season, Jones’s one fourth-quarter comeback ties him for 27th-most among all quarterbacks with Justin Fields, Joe Flacco, Jameis Winston, Trevor Siemian, and, surprisingly, Dak Prescott.
Justin Herbert, now in his third season, is tied for first with nine comeback wins over the last two years. Daniel Jones, who had his fifth-year option declined by the Giants, has five. Taylor Heinicke, an undrafted journeyman, has four. Joe Burrow, in his third season, also has four. Trevor Lawrence, part of Jones’s draft class, and Jalen Hurts, Jones’s former teammate at Alabama, have three. Tua Tagovailoa and even Zach Wilson have two.
The definition of a fourth-quarter comeback is only that a team has to complete a scoring drive in the fourth quarter while trailing by one score in a game that it eventually wins. It could come with 14:59 left on the clock, and it still counts as a comeback. Given the loose criteria, it is glaring that Jones has done it only once, against lowly Houston.
▪ Jones’s numbers are similar for game-winning drives, which is a score in the fourth quarter or OT that puts a team ahead for good. His one game-winning drive in two seasons ties him for 32nd with Flacco, Siemian, Geno Smith, Davis Mills, Kenny Pickett, Mitchell Trubisky, and Baker Mayfield.
Herbert is tied for second with nine. Daniel Jones and Burrow each have six. Heinicke has five. Hurts and Tagovailoa have four. Wilson has three. Cowboys backup Cooper Rush has three and Fields has two.
|Fourth-quarter comebacks||Game-winning drives|
▪ Jones is just 2-11 in his career when the Patriots defense allows 20-plus points. Both wins came last year — 25-22 over the Texans and 27-24 over the Chargers, with the Chargers making the game close in garbage time.
This year, the Patriots are 0-5 when allowing at least 20 points, with losses to the Dolphins, Ravens, Packers, Bears, and Vikings. Jones is just 3-7 in his career when throwing for 250-plus yards, and has yet to prove that he can win a shootout.
▪ Jones’s numbers when playing from behind are troubling. Between 2021-22, Jones’s 81.7 passer rating when trailing ranks 33rd among quarterbacks. His completion percentage (64.6) ranks 25th. He has 13 touchdowns against 15 interceptions, for a ratio that ranks 37th out of 42 QBs. He has the 32nd-highest touchdown percentage and sixth-highest interception percentage.
▪ And Jones’s career fourth-quarter passing stats are nothing to brag about. His 86.9 passer rating ranks 25th. His completion percentage (63.1) ranks 24th. He has eight touchdowns against five interceptions for a ratio that ranks 22nd highest.
Jones and the Patriots have three blowout wins this year, and showed signs of life last week against the Vikings, tying a season high with seven plays of 20-plus yards. And the struggles in crunch time certainly don’t fall all on Jones, as the offensive line and coaching deserve a share of the blame.
But Jones and the Patriots have a troubling history of coming up small in the fourth quarter. And 25 games into his career, Jones is still searching for a signature win.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.