The New England Patriots came up short in Tom Brady’s return to Foxborough on Sunday night, with Nick Folk’s last-minute field-goal attempt doinking off the left upright in the 19-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Aside from the historical and emotional aspects of TB12’s return, the biggest takeaway from Sunday night’s game was that the Pats found their new Brady, Mac Jones.
The rookie played well on the rain-soaked night, tossing for chunk gains against heavy Bucs blitzes, getting the ball out quick and knowing where the open man would be. Statistically, Jones outplayed Brady, generating 275 yards on a 77.5% completion rate, two TDs, one INT, and a 101.6 passer rating (Brady: 269 yards, 51.2 completion percentage, 0 TDs, 0 INTs, 70.8 rating).
At one point on an efficient night, Jones completed 19 straight passes, the most in a single game by a rookie in the last 30 seasons (since 1991, when official completions data begins). In addition, Jones tied Brady (Week 1, 2015) for the longest streak by a Patriots QB in a single game in the last 30 seasons.
Despite playing well versus the pressure on a massive stage, Jones wasn’t ready to accept any “moral victories,” noting the errors (the Pats had two turnovers and several big penalties) that stunted their progress Sunday night.
“You know, I think we executed well. Well, obviously not good enough to win, but Josh (McDaniels) did a great job, and I think it was good for us to learn that we didn’t put it all together, but we got close to putting it all together and playing a full game together,” he said, via the official game transcript. “When we can do that, I think positive things will happen. We didn’t; we can be 90 percent or 85 percent, and you lose. We don’t really do moral victories. Those are always forgotten. But you just kind of have to take it for what it’s worth and move on.”
On a night in which the Patriots had -1 total yards rushing, the offense was put on Jones’ shoulders. The rookie delivered. He generated the second-highest completion percentage (77.5) by a rookie with 40-plus pass attempts in a game in the Super Bowl era (highest: Chargers QB Justin Herbert in Week 14, 2020 vs. ATL, 81.8 percent).
However, the fact is the Pats fell to 1-3 for just the third time in the Bill Belichick era, and the first time since 2001, the year Brady took over.
At least at QB, however, the Pats know they’ve found a gamer.
“I think we moved in the right direction,” Jones said. “You know, we made plays and played hard the whole game, and I turned the ball over. That’s one of the problems, you know, turnovers can kill you, and you know if you turn the ball over – If you don’t turn the ball over, you have a 90-something percent chance to win, and it’s just statistics, but I have thought we moved the ball, passing well and the run game needs to improve, and we’ll come up with ways to do that. I thought everyone fought really hard. It sucks we lost but yeah, look at it, like you said, that we’re making some progress.”
The next tangible progress will be stacking wins, starting with the similarly 1-3 Houston Texans in Week 5.
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