The rains came and Mac Jones hijacked the Tom Brady vs. Bill Belichick spectacle
On a night that was supposed to drive the final nail in the coffin of the Tom Brady and Bill Belichick saga, New England Patriots rookie quarterback Mac Jones turned heads with a gutsy performance. The skies opened up and the rains pounded Gillette Stadium at Foxborough, but you better believe brighter days are coming with No. 10 under center.
No one expected the Patriots to win in a Sunday Night Football showdown with a returning Brady and the defending Super Bowl champs. These were his old stomping grounds, and he clearly wanted to stomp his cleats into Belichick’s backside.
And Jones was just the middle man in it all.
So much was made about the nerves of Brady and Belichick that no one ever really stopped to think about the emotions the 23-year-old gunslinger was going through. It’s arguably the biggest regular season game in NFL history, and he was caught up in a maelstrom of a media fury featuring the greatest quarterback and coach of all time.
Imagine being Jones and looking across the field and seeing a fired up Brady run down the sidelines screaming, “Let’s [expletive] go.” It was essentially a guy that he has admired and looked up to as a kid. Brady was winning Super Bowls when Jones was preschool age.
There was also the pressure on Belichick—and Jones not to let him down—to not allow his former quarterback to just waltz right into Foxborough and embarrass his football team. Considering the Buccaneers have an impenetrable wall on the defensive front, everything was going to fall on Jones’ shoulders and the passing attack to compete offensively—all while having Shaquil Barrett, Ndamukong Suh, Vita Vea and William Gholston in his face.
And boy, were they in his face.
Jones was smashed, slammed and contorted into a pretzel by the Buccaneers defense on nearly every drive. But he stood like a wild man in traffic willingly accepting of the human car crashes that came when he threw the ball.
Not every rookie could perform under that kind of pressure. Jones finished the game 31-of-40 for 275 passing yards and two touchdowns as opposed to Brady’s 22-of-43 passing for 269 yards and no touchdowns.
Granted, the Patriots didn’t win the game, but they had every opportunity to pull off the upset. Jones threw an interception, and running back J.J. Taylor coughed up a costly fumble in the game. And yet, despite both of those backbreaking mistakes, the Patriots offense had the ball late in the fourth quarter for a chance to respond to what ended up being a game-winning drive by Brady and company.
After having a third-down pass batted down by Buccaneers All-Pro linebacker Lavonte David, Jones would have had the chance to convert a fourth-and-3 on the Bucs’ side of the field with only 59 seconds left in the game.
But Belichick opted to take the ball out of his rookie quarterback’s hands and entrust kicker Nick Folk to knock a 56-yarder through the uprights instead.
It was a poor decision.
The Buccaneers’ secondary was devastated with injuries, and the Patriots offense had them on the ropes. Folk was kicking into the wind in a torrential downpour of rain from what would have been a career-long distance.
Even if he did hit the field goal, Brady would have had more time than he needed with two timeouts to march the ball right back down the field in the other direction and win the game. And he would have only needed a field goal to do it.
It’s crazy to think a coach rarely known for playing it safe did exactly that when the game was on the line.
So where does Jones go from here?
Well, he’ll continue to get better and learn on the fly. Even with all of the new pieces, the Patriots were never going to be a playoff contender this year. They still need a true No. 1 receiver, the offensive line needs to settle down and Jones needs more time to develop.
But it’s hard not to leave that game feeling hopeful if you’re a Patriots or Mac Jones fan. That didn’t look like the fifth-best quarterback of the 2021 NFL Draft on Sunday night. With Brady standing at the other end and a spotlight beaming as bright as the sun, the No. 15 overall pick proved he belonged.
What more can you ask?