FOXBOROUGH — If we’re being completely honest, it’s inconclusive whether Mac Jones intentionally gave a not-so-friendly tap to Sauce Gardner’s nether regions in the Patriots’ win over the Jets. The three video angles posted on social media aren’t definitive, even the one posted by Gardner himself.
But whether it was deliberate is beside the point. The real story is how little benefit of the doubt Jones is getting from his fellow players, who are lining up to dump all over the young quarterback.
“He stay doin dirty [expletive]!!” Eagles cornerback Darius Slay tweeted this week.
“Nothing new,” tweeted Bears safety Jaquan Brisker, who was involved in a skirmish with Jones last year.
NFL players generally stick up for each other, or at least keep their beefs contained to the field. And you rarely see players go after another team’s quarterback.
But current and former players have been quick to take shots at Jones, calling him dirty and comparing him to Grayson Allen, the bratty cheap-shot artist from Duke basketball. The NFL hasn’t announced whether Jones will be fined for Sunday’s incident.
“Top 5 Dirtiest QB all time,” former Patriots defensive end Chris Long tweeted. “When you’ve got a track record ppl stop giving u the benefit of the doubt.”
Even those inside the Patriots family acknowledge that Jones seems to find himself in these situations more than most, and he needs to cut it out. In 2022, the NFL had a total of six fines to quarterbacks for on-field conduct, and Jones accounted for three of them for a total of $32,357.
“There’s a lot of players that have played this game, and they’re not involved in any of these things,” former Patriot Devin McCourty said Wednesday on WEEI. “I don’t think he’s a dirty player or a dirty person, and I think somewhere along the line in his competitive edge, he’s doing things that you don’t really need to have on the football field, ever.”
For a guy who has been in the league for only two-plus years, Jones has already compiled a list of questionable plays:
▪ The Brian Burns incident of 2021, when Jones twisted Burns’s ankle while both were on the ground. “Some bull,” Burns called it. “Completely dirty,” said then-Panthers teammate Haason Reddick.
▪ The Brisker incident of 2022, which actually was two plays. Brisker first accused Jones of trying to trip him, then accused Jones of purposely sliding with his cleat up and hitting Brisker in his private parts. “I think he should get fined,” said Brisker. “Or something needs to happen.” Jones wasn’t fined.
▪ The Eli Apple incident of 2022, when Jones dove at Apple’s legs during a Bengals interception return. This one did receive a fine of $11,139.
▪ Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen tweeted last year that Jones said something inappropriate in their Week 3 game. Calais Campbell said this summer that Jones was “kind of disrespectful” and was “trash-talking to the highest level.”
When Gardner posted his video last week, Queen responded, “But last year when I said something I was wrong.”
Now there is the Gardner incident, in which Jones’s tap prompted Gardner to take a knee and catch his breath minute before the next play. Gardner may have been embellishing his reaction. The problem for Jones is that his rap sheet is long enough that no one believes him.
“Mac is a repeat offender,” former kicker Lawrence Tynes tweeted. “He’s the one that needs to be fined IMO.”
It was hard not to feel a bit for Jones Wednesday as he nervously waded through his press conference, knowing that the Gardner incident would be a topic for the fourth day in a row.
Jones is a hard worker and is well-liked inside the Patriots locker room. He is a good representative of the Patriots in the community. He also did an admirable job of being accountable for some of his bad behavior last year — the screaming at coaches and so on — and has vowed to be more positive.
But Jones still needs to work on controlling his emotions. It has been his biggest challenge since college at Alabama, when Nick Saban nicknamed him “McEnroe” for his outbursts.
Jones plays a violent, ultra-competitive game, and seems to have trouble flipping off the switch. Maintaining composure is an important trait for a football player, but especially so for a quarterback, the leader of the team.
Trash talk can be an effective tool for rattling an opponent or getting yourself hyped for a game. Tom Brady was an infamous trash-talker. But he earned the right to do it. Jones hasn’t.
The Netflix documentary “Quarterbacks” showed Patrick Mahomes giving effusive compliments to his opponents so that they potentially hesitate when hitting him. Jones has done the opposite, provoking genuine animosity and putting a target on his back.
Officials will be watching Jones closer. Opponents won’t mind laying on an extra thump.
Burns in 2021 wished “happy hunting” to his fellow pass rushers when they played Jones. Campbell said this summer that quarterbacks should “be nice because you don’t want to get hit,” but that Jones has “let the cat out of the bag.”
And Jones’s teammates may not be thrilled that his antics are drawing attention. When given the opportunity to defend Jones Wednesday, two Patriots offensive captains passed.
“You could ask Mac about that,” center David Andrews said.
“I’m focused on the Cowboys, honestly,” tight end Hunter Henry said.
It’s certainly possible that Jones didn’t mean to tap Gardner and is being unfairly castigated for that. But he has developed a reputation during his short time in the NFL, and has only himself to blame.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.