FOXBOROUGH — For the second straight week, Mac Jones had the ball in his hands in the fourth quarter of a football game with the chance to do what every NFL quarterback dreams of doing.
For the second straight week, Jones, playing at home, had the ball in his hands late in the fourth quarter with the opportunity to win or tie a game. A week ago, it was the Eagles. Sunday night, it was the Dolphins.
It was all right there. The thrill of performing amid crunch-time stakes, the pride at proving he could come through in the clutch, the joy of releasing a stadium into full-throated delirium. It was all right there. The chance to build the kind of reputation every quarterback craves, as a player who can lead a comeback win.
For the second straight week, however, Jones and the Patriots couldn’t pull it off. Last week, down 5 against the Eagles, Jones failed on two possessions to lead a touchdown drive that would have won the game. Sunday night, Jones couldn’t lead the offense to the end zone for a touchdown that could have tied or possibly beaten the Dolphins.
He came close; the last gasp ended with the wacky play where Mike Gesicki caught Jones’s fourth-down 3-yard pass, realized he was a yard short of the sticks, and flipped the ball to guard Cole Strange, who barreled forward for an apparent first down only to have the conversion reversed upon review. Jones was left with nothing to do but take one last dejected walk to his sideline and wait out Tua Tagovailoa’s two kneel-down plays to run out the clock, just as he’d waited out Jalen Hurts’s victory-formation kneel-down in Week 1.
There was nothing left to do but ponder the back-to-back losses to his two former Alabama teammates who seem to be racing ahead in their NFL careers; the Eagles lost in the Super Bowl last year and the Dolphins are favored to make their second straight playoff appearance. To swallow the disappointment of the Patriots’ 0-2 start, matching the franchise’s worst in 22 years. To head to the locker room where he would sit by his stall, a towel draped over his head, before finally hitting the showers.
Between Sunday night’s 24-17 loss to Miami and the 25-20 loss to Philadelphia that preceded it, it’s getting late awfully early for the Patriots, who play their next two games on the road. A must-win against the reeling, Aaron Rodgers-less Jets followed by a trip to Dallas to face the high-flying and undefeated Cowboys.
“It just wasn’t our day,” Jones said. “Hasn’t been our day for the last two weeks. So we’ve just got to learn from it and get better.”
He struck a different, less emotional tone than he did after the Philadelphia game, when he shouldered so much individual blame, saying, “I felt like I definitely let the team down” because “they gave me the ball twice to win the game and I couldn’t do it.”
This time, he seemed to be trying to be more positive, talking about how much can be learned from this loss, how the offense can take the good things from the first two games and combine them going forward.
“Yeah, biggest thing is just we’re close,” he said. “We drove the ball pretty well, just didn’t get it in. Last week, we were behind and kind of scored some touchdowns, you know, and if we can combine those two things, move the ball and then get it in the red zone, I think everyone would be smiling right now.
“So that’s the biggest thing, just watch the tape and see how we can get it in, make it easier on the defense and special teams.”
Those two units did their part Sunday, at least in giving Jones the ball — once on a blocked field goal in the third quarter that set him up at the Miami 49, and on a fourth-quarter interception, the first career pick by rookie first-rounder Christian Gonzalez that set Jones up at Miami’s 45. The first came with the Patriots trailing, 17-3; the second with it 17-10.
Jones didn’t do much with the first of those gifts, wasting a promising drive by throwing an interception at the Dolphins’ 22-yard line, when Xavien Howard stepped in front of DeVante Parker along the right sideline. But after the defense forced a three-and-out, Jones led an eight-play, 58-yard drive that ended with a nervy, over-the-shoulder throw as he rolled to his right and connected with trusted tight end Hunter Henry. Suddenly down only 7, the Patriots had life, and when Gonzalez picked off Tagovailoa on the next possession, the game was in Mac’s hands.
He went three-and-out.
Then, when the Dolphins’ speed advantage reared its head again, with Raheem Mostert exploding for a 43-yard touchdown run up the middle, it felt like the night was over. But Jones was able to make it interesting, leading a nine-play, 75-yard drive that ended with Rhamondre Stevenson’s 2-yard touchdown plunge, getting the Patriots within one score again.
But after a missed 55-yard field goal attempt by the Dolphins set him up for one more chance at comeback glory, Jones couldn’t pull it off.
In three years as a starter, Jones has engineered only one fourth-quarter game-winning drive — for a field goal to beat the Texans in his rookie season. That next glorious comeback has remained elusive, and it’s not all on him. Without game-breaking talent at wide receiver, without healthy and effective protection from his offensive line, without competent play calling for an entire season last year, it’s no wonder.
But it was right there again Sunday, after a night of surviving the pressure, after a game plan built around finding short-yardage plays where he could, it was right there.
Until it wasn’t so.
Read more Patriots coverage:
- Dan Shaughnessy: This one had the makings of a Strange finish, but instead we’re left to wonder what to make of these Patriots
- They’re the same old punchless Patriots, and other takeaways from 24-17 loss to Dolphins
- Dolphins 24, Patriots 17: New England drops to 0-2 for first time since 2001
- Another wild Patriots-Dolphins finish featuring a late lateral fails to go New England’s way
- Local firefighters resuscitate fan who suffered cardiac arrest at Gillette Stadium