Two seasons and 31 starts into his NFL career, here’s the short list of what we know for sure about Patriots quarterback Mac Jones:
He’s tough. He’s temperamental, often justifiably so. He has Chad Pennington’s fastball. His teammates respect his work ethic. As a commercial pitchman, he makes Rob Gronkowski look like an EGOT winner.
And here’s what we don’t know, after two seasons, 36 touchdown passes, 24 interceptions, a promising rookie season, and a sophomore season that was an abject disaster for reasons mostly but not entirely beyond his control:
Is he capable of being the Patriots quarterback the next time they are a true championship contender?
The answer will become clearer when he is well into his third season. But Jones has a chance. A chance. And that’s a heck of a lot more than he had this season.
Bill Belichick, almost certainly with an adamant nudge from owner Robert Kraft, righted one of the most bizarre wrongs in my 45 years of giving a hoot about Boston sports, hiring Bill O’Brien as offensive coordinator last week to replace Matt Patricia, who had the responsibility but not the title in 2022 and ultimately coordinated nothing but chaos.
By putting Patricia and quarterbacks coach Joe Judge in charge of the offense and giving incompetence authority, Belichick stunted the development of his 2021 first-round pick and the most valuable asset in professional sports — a quarterback on his rookie contract.
The best I can figure, Belichick had faith in Patricia’s intelligence and overall coaching acumen and figured he’d solve the complexities of running an offense faster than most.
You know how it played out: Patricia solved nada, the offense was rudimentary on its best Sundays and minimized the talent of virtually every name on the depth chart. Jones was let down by his coaches more than any important young player in recent Boston sports history.
I mean it. Can you name someone on another team — Patriots, Bruins, Celtics, Revolution, Red Sox, Pride, 1978 New England Tea Men, any player on any team in any year — who was failed more by his superiors than Jones was this season? When have you ever heard of a team having to keep schemes simple for the coaching staff?
It’s crazy, and crazier still that this happened under the direction of the greatest coach in NFL history. He’s going to have to use three mulligans, maybe four, to make us forget about this.
An adequate offensive coordinator would offer an enormous upgrade in 2023. The Patriots brought in someone even better than that in O’Brien, a known quantity who spent five seasons (2007-11) on Belichick’s staff, serving as the offensive coordinator in his final year when Tom Brady and friends averaged 32.1 points per game, third in the league.
He doesn’t just Know What He’s Doing, which is the low bar that Patricia and Judge couldn’t clear. He’s a proven, talented coordinator — and it helps that he has a brief history with Jones, and shares a competitiveness bordering on the volatile with the quarterback that should make for an effective and highly entertaining partnership. He’s the ideal shepherd for Jones and the offense right now, and the Patriots are fortunate that he left Sabanland behind to come back.
Jones could use a few more assets to aid in his quest for success and redemption; a No. 1 wide receiver seems essential to any serious passing game these days, and a sturdy new tackle on one end of the line or the other is also necessary.
But the Patriots now have a coach who is capable of actually maximizing the talent in the huddle, and there are some quality pieces. Rhamondre Stevenson is a tough, talented back whose tires were worn down by season’s end. Hunter Henry, DeVante Parker, and Kendrick Bourne should be much better off with O’Brien, and perhaps Tyquan Thornton will blossom into a true deep threat. Help is needed, but it’s not hopeless.
Jones should not escape total blame for how this season went. He could be petulant (rightfully, I say, but when Patriots legends such as Julian Edelman and Vince Wilfork call you out for it, that carries some weight). He threw just 14 touchdown passes, which is tied with Butch Songin in 1961 for the 45th-most in a season in Patriots history. When you average a touchdown pass per game in the modern NFL, you know you’re either running the wishbone or something has gone drastically wrong.
Me, I believe in Jones. He’s never going to be Patrick Mahomes or Joe Burrow, but he’s a quarterback the Patriots can win with, provided he has talented, versatile skill players around him (another strong draft is crucial), his strengths (smarts, accuracy) are emphasized, and he is led by coaches who aid his success rather than fail him.
His first season spurred hope. His second was a disaster. His third is the rubber match. No matter how it goes, at least next season his own coordinator won’t feel like an opponent.
Chad Finn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.